Hotels in Venice
Basilica di San Marco (St Mark’s Basilica)
St Mark’s Square was memorably described by Napoleon as the ‘drawing room of Europe’. Here, visitors can sit at one of the elegant 18th-century coffee houses (Florian and Caffe Quadri, with tables spilling out into the sunlight from the shadows of the Renaissance colonnades) and peer at one of Europe’s most unusual churches, the golden Byzantine Basilica di San Marco. The basilica was founded in the ninth century, as a shrine for the relics of St Mark, whose body was smuggled from Alexandria in a barrel of salted pork. Formerly a private chapel of the Doges, the church was completely rebuilt in the 11th century, following a fire. Built on a plan of a Greek Cross, its Eastern appearance is enhanced by golden mosaics both inside and out, originally created by craftsmen from the Byzantine court at Ravenna. To see how the church appeared in 1260, visitors should take a look at the mosaic over the left portal – one of the oldest surviving mosaics on the façade. Also on the façade are copies of four bronze horses seized from Constantine’s Hippodrome at the sacking of Constantinople in 1204, which became one of the symbols of the city. The originals are now displayed in the Museo Marciano, inside the church.

The interior, lit by the expanse of golden mosaics, houses many of Venice’s greatest treasures. In the chapel north of the main altar is the venerated icon of the Madonna Nicopeia. Once worshipped by the Roman Emperors in Constantinople, she came to Venice in 1204, as their Madonna of Victory, whose blessing was vital for Venetian military campaigns. The golden screen behind the high altar – the crypt in which St Mark is supposed to be buried – is the Pala d’Oro. Decked with sapphires, emeralds and rubies and inset with enamels from Constantinople, it was ordered by Pietro Orseolo, the Doge who was responsible for the rebuilding of the Basilica. Before leaving St Mark’s, visitors should pause to admire the 12th-century pavement, a resplendent mosaic of glass and marble. Now filled with uneven dips, it is a fitting witness to Venice’s unique situation, as the weight of its history threatens to submerge it below the waves. The attempts to reverse this process are all too visible if you cast your eyes towards the lagoon. The waterfront by Piazza San Marco is currently blighted by much-needed attempts to shore it up, and looks destined to ruin many a tourist photo for some time to come.

Piazza San Marco
Tel: (041) 522 5205. Fax: (041) 520 8289.
Transport: Vaporetto 1 or 82 to San Zaccaria.
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 0945-1700 and Sun 1400-1700.
Admission: Free (Church); €2 (Pala D’Oro); €2.50 (Treasury).

Palazzo Ducale (Doges’ Palace)
The Doges’ Palace (once home to the elected leader of Venice, the Doge, as well as the city’s political nerve centre) is a must for anyone interested in the history of Venice and its former empire. A building seemingly too graceful for the dirty work of government, its pearly façade is best appreciated from the lagoon, in whose milky light her rosy complexion blushes beguilingly. A merging of Islamic and Gothic styles, the façade dates from 1365. In contrast to the stern fortifications of the castle that was formerly on this site, the undefended colonnade and arcaded balcony are a testament to Venice’s confidence and democratic outlook during the Middle Ages.

The interior is more Renaissance in style, dating mainly from the 16th century, when Antonio da Ponte was employed to refurbish the palace after the fire of 1577. The first floor is predominantly made up of the Ducal apartments, all but empty except for some exemplary paintings by Titian and Bellini. It is on the upper floors that the business of government took place and it is here that Tintoretto and Veronese were commissioned to create new paintings to highlight the power and wealth of the republic. The Anticollegio (or waiting room) holds some of the palace’s best works – Tintoretto’s Bacchus and Ariadne vies for attention with Veronese’s Rape of Europa.

Further on, the Sala del Collegio is dominated by Veronese’s ceiling painting of Venice Triumphant above the throne. But it is the Chamber of the Great Council (Sala del Maggior Consiglio), the huge hall on the third floor, spanning the length of the façade overlooking the lagoon, which holds the palace’s most dramatic work. Tintoretto’s Vision of Paradise (painted with the help of his son, Domenico) is the largest oil painting in the world, with a cast of 500 figures. Tintoretto junior is also responsible for the frieze of portraits of the first 76 Doges, made memorable by the blacked-out image of Marin Falier, the only Doge ever to attempt to overthrow the council and install himself as absolute ruler. Falier was beheaded for his pains but his notoriety lives on in this silhouetted image.

The Doges’ Palace is currently nearing the end of a five-stage restoration project, with the final completion date constantly changing. Concerted attempts are being made to keep as many of the museum areas as possible open throughout the running repairs.

Riva degli Schiavoni, San Marco
Tel: (041) 271 5911.
Transport: Vaporetto 1, 6, 14, 41, 42, 51, 52 or 82.
Opening hours: Daily 0900-1900 (Apr-Oct) and 0900-1700 (Nov-Mar).
Admission: €11 or €15.50 (only Museum Card or Museum Pass holders are admitted).

Rialto Bridge
Venice is historically centred on Rialto Island, the name of which is derived from the Latin rivus altus, meaning high bank. In the 10th century, a provisions market developed spontaneously on the adjacent island and so, in 1264, the first wooden bridge linking the two landmasses was built. This wooden bridge collapsed in 1444, from the weight of crowds watching a wedding procession. It was replaced in 1588, by Antonio da Ponte’s design for the single stone arched bridge, which beat off proposals by Palladio and Michelangelo. Da Ponte’s bridge retained the covered shops of the original – today the haunt of tacky tourist traps and hawk-eyed goldsmiths but once home to Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Visitors may note how the bridge crosses the Grand Canal at an angle, in order to align with the axis of the Ruga degli Orefici (Goldsmiths’ Road). Until 1854, this was the only point at which the Grand Canal could be crossed on foot. If visiting during the day, make sure to return when it is dark, or even better misty as well, when the bridge really takes on an otherworldly atmosphere.

Ponte di Rialto, near Piazzale Roma
Transport: Vaporetto 1 or 82.
Opening hours: Daily 24 hours.
Admission: Free.

Galleria dell’Accademia
Many of Venice’s greatest paintings remain in the buildings for which they were created, but the most important art gallery, the Accademia, is still worth a visit. Housed in the former church of Santa Maria della Carita and the adjoining Scuola, the collection first opened in 1750.

Oils were the favourite medium of the Venetian masters. Frescoes, popular on the mainland, were unsuited to the damp, salty climate of the lagoon and soon perished. Instead, oils painted on wood or canvas (long used in Northern Europe) were exploited to new limits, with the artists demonstrating an unusual sensitivity to colour and light, no doubt partly influenced by the play of light on the lagoon. The small paintings in rooms 4 and 5 are some of the finest in the collection. Giorgione’s Tempesta, depicting a naked mother and child sheltering under a stormy sky against the ruins of an ancient city, is full of mystery. Little is known about the artist and the subject of the scene is unclear, but the interplay of dark and light conveys a deep sense of drama. The larger canvases by Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese in room 10 should not be missed either. Titian painted the Pieta for his own tomb, demonstrating his extraordinary ability to create light with his palette. Veronese’s bawdy picture, entitled Feast in the House of Levi, was originally painted as The Last Supper but the artist was forced to amend the subject after charges of indecorum. Visitors should allow time for room 21, to admire the drama and colour of the nine broad canvases in which Carpaccio has dramatically staged the Life of St Ursula.

Dorsoduro 1050
Tel: (041) 522 2247. Fax: (041) 521 2709.
Transport: Vaporetto 1 or 82.
Opening hours: Tues-Sun 0815-1915, Mon 0815-1400.
Admission: €6.50.

Basilica dei Frari (Church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari)
The glorious Gothic Church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, constructed around 1330, is primarily associated with the name of Titian, Venice’s painter son who is buried here, alongside the city’s celebrated sculptor, Antonio Canova. Titian made his reputation and crowned his early years by painting the huge altar piece, The Assumption of the Virgin, for the Franciscan brothers of the Frari in 1518. The view through the choir screen and wooden choir to the high altar influenced Titian’s choice of frame and composition. The best way for one to admire it is to walk slowly up the centre of the nave towards the altar. Titian also executed the painting over the Pesaro family altar in the north aisle. The inclusion of the flag and Turk in the painting alludes to Bishop Pesaro’s victory over the Turks at Santa Maura. Titian’s tomb, located in the south aisle, faces the large marble pyramid created for Canova, depicting St Mark’s lion paying homage to the dead sculptor. Ironically, the design, executed by Canova’s pupils, was based on Canova’s own plans for a new monument to Titian.

San Polo 3072
Tel: (041) 272 8611.
Transport: Vaporetto 1 or 82 to San Tomà.
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 0900-1800 and Sun 1300-1800.
Admission: €2.50

Scuola Grande di San Rocco (School of St Roch)
The renown of the School of St Roch, one of the many lay fraternities established in Venice for charitable works, is the series of masterful canvases by Jacopo Tintoretto that decorate its interior. Founded in 1478, the school was dedicated to St Roch, following a particularly vicious outbreak of plague. Tintoretto won the commission to decorate the entire Scuola in 1564 and spent the next 23 years doing so, becoming a brother of the school.

The ground floor holds a series of large canvasses depicting scenes from the Life of the Virgin (1582-1587). In the upper hall, connected by Scarpagnino’s staircase, are representations from the Old Testament on the ceiling and New Testament on the walls (1570-1581). The art critic and famous Victorian thinker, John Ruskin, reserved his greatest praise for the Sala dell’Albergo (1564-1567), where the chapter met. On entering the room, the visitor is confronted with the stunning expanse of Tintoretto’s Crucifixion along the breadth of the opposite wall, one of the world’s great works of art. Tintoretto manages to capture the painterly equivalent of tempo, rendering the darkened landscape busy with vignettes of activity while the divine halo around Christ’s head, his face partly hidden as his head bows in death, dimly illuminates the scene. Visitors attending one of the cultural events in the building can nip through during the interval for a free peek at the master’s work.

Campo San Rocco, San Polo 3054
Tel: (041) 523 4864. Fax (041) 524 2820.
Transport: Vaporetto 1 or 82 to San Tomà.
Opening hours: Daily 1000-1600.
Admission: €5.

Scuola Dalmata di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni (Dalmation School of St George the Slav)
During the Middle Ages, the large Dalmatian (Schiavoni means ‘Slav’) population in Venice provided labourers for building ships in the arsenal and sailors for the Venetian fleets. Forming a charitable guild in 1451, they moved their seat to the School of St George in 1480, under the patronage of the Knights of Malta. Vittore Carpaccio, himself of Istrian origin, painted a series of celebrated and brilliantly imaginative canvases, between 1502 and 1508. Located in a dark hall on the ground floor since 1551, the canvases depict scenes from the lives of the guild’s patron saints – St George, St Tryphone and St Jerome. Based on tales from The Golden Legend, the images depict St George killing the dragon, St Jerome welcoming the lion into the monastery, the funeral of St Jerome and the revelation of the death of St Jerome to St Augustine. Carpaccio’s canvases demand attention through a combination of drama and extraordinary detail. The canal-side wall, complete with its relief of George slaying the dragon, is in a dire state, but finally work is underway to shore it up, as well as to stabilise the rest of the exterior.

Calle dei Furlani 3259/a, Castello
Tel: (041) 522 8828. Fax: (041) 520 8446.
Transport: Vaporetto 1 or 52 to San Zaccaria.
Opening: Tues-Sat 0930-1230 and 1530-1830, Sun 0930-1230 (Apr-Oct); Tues-Sat 1000-1230 and 1500-1800, Sun 1000-1230 (Nov-Mar).
Admission: €2.50.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Peggy Guggenheim’s collection of modern art is probably the most distinguished in Italy. The wealthy American heiress (a generous benefactor who helped promote Jackson Pollock amongst others) built up her collection between 1938 and 1947. Following the exhibition of the collection at the 1948 Venice Biennale, she bought the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, where she lived until her death in 1979, leaving her estate to the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation. The collection spans Cubism, European Abstraction, Surrealism and early American Abstract Expressionism, with works by a wide variety of artists, including Pollock, Picasso, Kandinsky and Dalí. The sculpture garden is particularly fine and enjoys lovely views over the Grand Canal.

Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Dorsoduro
Tel: (041) 240 5411. Fax: (041) 520 6885.
Transport: Vaporetto 1 or 82 from Piazza San Marco.
Opening hours: Wed-Sun 1000-1800; closed Tue.

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