We arrived on a Friday morning and went shopping! Venice is a dream for shoppers, full of exquisite and irresistible boutiques selling everything from postcards to hand-made glassware from Murano. The most exclusive (and expensive) shops cluster around Piazza San Marco. In a palace on Calle Longa 4391/A, Pauly & Co offers a sophisticated collection of hats, glasses, furniture and marble objects. Their second shop in Piazza San Marco sells Murano glassware and that’s where we found this stunning Murano glass cherry necklace.
Murano Island is probably the most famous island of the venetian Lagoon, and it’s actually composed of seven minor islands. After repeated fires at the factories levelled parts of the city, the doge moved all glassmaking enterprises to the small island of Murano in 1291, creating what some call the world’s first industrial park. Besides containing the risk of fire, the move controlled comings and goings to ensure that rival empires did not pilfer talent or techniques.
Glassware has been around for millenniums — the Romans produced beautiful pieces — but the knowledge and techniques were eventually forgotten and lost in Europe during the Middle Ages. Its revival can be traced to the Republic of Venice’s trade with the Middle East, where glassmaking traditions had continued in Byzantium and the Muslim world. Through their trading partners, the Venetians learned the secrets of production and established a thriving industry that produced elegant blown glass and mirrors, which quickly became coveted symbols of style and status across Europe.
For over a thousand years, Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) has symbolised Venice’s wealth and power. In the heart of the city, the square has long been a meeting place, with its celebrated cafes and shops.
The we went to Il Papiro where I found a little book of photographs of Venice. It’s travel size for my convenience!
Il Papiro sells elegant and unique stationary materials – letterhead, postcards, delicate watermarked paper, monogrammed paper or cards, initial seals and so much more. It’s enough to tempt you to take up calligraphy!
Venetia Stvdivm has beautiful silk items – lamps, handbags and scarves, elegant velvet items – cushion covers and table runners, and other products influenced by the “history of Venice and its links to the Byzantium and the East”. We left the shop with three silk scarves and a velvet evening bag (still not used ten years later, but still very pretty!).
Piazza San Marco was constructed in the 9th century as a small square dotted with trees. The square was laid out in front of the original St. Mark’s Basilica, at the time a small chapel which was part of the Doge’s Palace. As the largest square in the city and the only one given the designation of “piazza” (the others are all referred to as “campi”), Piazza San Marco has always been the location of important government buildings and other facilities central to the goings on in Venice.
The centrepiece of the piazza is the magnificent St. Mark’s Basilica. Commissioned in 1071 by doge Domenico Contarini, this amazing church is built in Venetian-Byzantine style, a mixture of western and eastern styles. Nicknamed Chiesa d’Oro (Church of Gold) because of its opulence, it has been the seat of the Patriarch of Venice, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice, since 1807. The basilica has a separate campanile – bell tower – that stands 98.6 meters tall and is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. Originally built in the 9th century, the current version was rebuilt in 1912 after the original tower collapsed in 1902.
With its Byzantine domes and 8500 square metres of luminous mosaics, Venice’s basilica is an unforgettable sight. It dates to the 9th century when, according to legend, two merchants smuggled the corpse of St Mark out of Egypt in a barrel of pork fat. While at sea, a storm almost drowned the grave robbers and their precious cargo. According to legend, St. Mark himself appeared to the captain and told him to lower the sails. The ship was saved, and the merchants said they owed their safety to the miracle. The entire story is pictured on the 13th century mosaic above the left door as you enter the basilica.
When the original burnt down in 932, Venice rebuilt the basilica in its own cosmopolitan image, with Byzantine domes, a Greek cross layout and walls clad in marbles from Syria, Egypt and Palestine.
The front of the basilica ripples and crests like a wave, its five niched portals capped with shimmering mosaics and frothy stonework arches. Grand entrances are made through the central portal, under an ornate triple arch with Egyptian purple porphyry columns and 13th to 14th century reliefs of vines, virtues and astrological signs.
Blinking is natural upon your first glimpse of the basilica’s glittering mosaics, many made with 24-carat gold leaf fused onto the back of the glass to represent divine light. Just inside the vestibule are the basilica’s oldest mosaics: Apostles with the Madonna, standing sentry by the main door for more than 950 years. Mystical transfusions occur in the Dome of the Holy Spirit, where a dove’s blood streams onto the heads of saints. In the central 13th century Cupola of the Ascension, angels swirl overhead while dreamy-eyed St. Mark rests on the pendentive. Scenes from St. Mark’s life unfold over the main altar, in vaults flanking the Dome of the Prophets.
Pala d’Oro is the gold altarpiece studded with 2000 emeralds, amethysts, sapphires, rubies, pearls and other gemstones. It houses the sarcophagus of St. Mark’s and is guarded by wide-eyed saints in vibrant cloisonné, begun in Constantinople in 976 and elaborated by Venetian goldsmiths in 1209. Other holy bones and booty from the Crusades fill the Tesoro; while ducal treasures on show in the museum would put a king’s ransom to shame. A highlight is the Quadriga of St. Mark’s, a group of four bronze horses originally plundered from Constantinople and later carted off to Paris by Napoleon before being returned to the basilica and installed in the first floor gallery. Portals lead from the gallery on to the Loggia dei Cavalli, where reproductions of the horses gallop off the balcony over Piazza San Marco.
The other dominant building in Piazza San Marco is Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace). A beautiful Gothic structure, it faces the Venetian lagoon and was completed in the early fifteenth century, though portions of it were rebuilt after a fire in 1574.
Palazzo Ducale was the Doge’s official residence from the 9th century, and seat of the Venetian Republic’s government (and prisons) for nearly seven centuries. The intricate Byzantine and Gothic design, along with St Mark’s Basilica’s imposing campanile, was intended to strike awe into visitors as they approached the city from across the Lagoon.
The Doge’s Apartments are on the first floor, but it’s the lavishly decorated second floor chambers that are the real highlight. These culminate in the echoing Sala del Maggior Consiglio (Grand Council Hall), home to the Doge’s throne and a 22m-by-7m Paradise painting by Tintoretto’s son Domenico.
After fire gutted the original palace in 1577, Venice considered Palladio’s offer to build one of his signature neoclassical temples in its place. Instead, Antonio da Ponte won the commission to restore the palace’s Gothic façade with white Istrian stone and Veronese pink marble. Da Ponte’s palazzo effortlessly mixes past with present and business with pleasure, capping a graceful colonnade with medieval capitals depicting key Venetian guilds.
Scala dei Censori (Stairs of the Censors) go up to the Doge’s Apartments on the first floor. The 18 roaring lions decorating the doge’s Sala degli Stucci are reminders that Venice’s most powerful figurehead lived like a caged lion in his gilded suite, which he could not leave without permission. Still, consider the real estate: a terrace garden with private entry to the basilica, and a dozen salons with splendidly restored marble fireplaces carved by Tullio and Antonio Lombardo. The Sala del Scudo (Shield Room) is covered with world maps that reveal the extents of Venetian power c. 1483 and 1762.
Sansovino’s 24-carat gilt stuccowork Scala d’Oro (Golden Staircase) goes up to the second floor rooms. In the Palladio-designed Sala delle Quattro Porte (Hall of the Four Doors), ambassadors awaited ducal audiences under a lavish display of Venice’s virtues by Giovanni Cambi, Titian and Tiepolo.
Few were granted an audience in the Palladio-designed Collegio (Council Room), where Veronese’s 1575–78 Virtues of the Republic ceiling shows Venice as a bewitching blonde waving her sceptre like a wand over Justice and Peace. Father-son team Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto attempt similar flattery, showing Venice keeping company with Apollo, Mars and Mercury in their Triumph of Venice ceiling for the Sala del Senato (Senate Hall).
Government cover-ups were never so appealing as in the Sala Consiglio dei Dieci (Trial Chambers of the Council of Ten), where Venice’s star chamber plotted under Veronese’s Juno Bestowing Her Gifts on Venice, a glowing goddess strewing gold ducats. Over the slot where anonymous treason accusations were slipped into the Sala della Bussola (Compass Room) is his St Mark in Glory ceiling.
The cavernous 1419 Sala del Maggior Consiglio (Grand Council Hall) provides the setting for Domenico Tintoretto’s swirling Paradise, a work that’s more politically correct than pretty: heaven is crammed with 500 prominent Venetians, including several Tintoretto patrons. Veronese’s political posturing is more elegant in his oval Apotheosis of Venice ceiling, where gods marvel at Venice’s coronation by angels, with foreign dignitaries and Venetian blondes rubbernecking on the balcony below.
One of the most notorious trademarks of Venice is the Bridge of Sighs, suspended over the Rio di Palazzo (Palace River). The bridge was designed by Antonio Contino in 1602 to connect the Doge’s Palace to the New Prison. According to legend, the enclosed bridge derives its name from the sighs of convicted criminals, catching a last glimpse of Venice through the windows as they were led to captivity. It was immortalised by Byron in his poem Childe Harold, where he writes, “I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs/ A palace and prison on each hand”.
It’s time for cupcakes!