Wednesday, May 14, 2014

125. Piazza San Marco

The Piazza San Marco is the principal public square in Venice situated at the end of the Grande Canal and opening out onto the larger Canale de San Marco and Venice Lagoon, and in times past this square was the centre of Venetian social, religious and political life dating back to as early as 800AD. 

There are three major landmarks that dominate the Piazza – the Basilica of Saint Mark, The Doge’s Palace and the Campanile of Saint Mark’s Church ( the Bell Tower ). And today my itinerary includes a visit to all three – provided the queues are not too bad … !!! …

The Piazza from the Canal ...

The Campanile of Saint Mark's Church ...

Saint Mark's Basilica undergoing restoration ...

The Doge's Palace ...

Piazza San Marco - from the Basilica balcony ...

First up it's joining the almost almost-nil queue at the Campanile - the bell tower of Saint Mark's Basilica - pay the entrance fee and a lift whisks us up 90m to the observation deck ...


From way up here we get a great aerial view of the city, canals and outlying islands ...




the domes of Saint Marks ...

The original tower was built in 1514, but collapsed in 1902 - to be re-built in 1912 ... and now like many buildings in Venice - built on soft ground, supported by wooden piles - and due to years of winter flooding, the subsoil has become saturated and the campanile has begun to subside and lean. Evidence of this can be seen in the increasing number of cracks in the masonry. In order to stop the damage, a ring of titanium is being built underneath the foundations of the campanile. The titanium ring will protect the campanile from the shifting soil and ensure that the tower subsides equally and does not lean ... !!!. Thankfully it remained upright for my stay ...  


The Canale di San Marco


Compo Salute ... and the end of the Grande Canal ...


Piazza San Marco ... without the tourists ..


A couple of the large bells ( five in all ) - 
fortunately didn't ring while I was under them ...

Next it was back down and out into the now swelling crowd in the Piazza ...




Vendors set up in the Piazza ...
selling "been there" tee-shirts and hats etc ...

... Venetian masks ( probably made in China ) ...


... more hats and silly aprons for silly tourists ...

... and still they arrive by the dozens ...



So before the queue grows too large I join the line for entry into the Basilica ... The Italo-Byzantine church was consecrated in 1093 and originally was the private church for the ruling Doge and his court and not opened to the populace as a cathedral until 1807 ... 






Unfortunately a great deal of the famous exterior was covered in scaffolding for a restoration project and the interior is rather dull in spite of the fabulous gold mosaics, plus photography is not allowed - so I was only able to sneak a couple of images while the guards weren't looking ... !!! ...






The very beautiful - and much traveled - Horses of Saint Mark - seen here below - were originally installed on the balcony above the portal of the basilica in about 1254 and presumably were originally the team pulling a quadriga chariot, probably containing an emperor. The horses were long displayed at the Hippodrome of Constantinople, and in 1204 the then Doge sent them back to Venice as part of the loot sacked from Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade. They were taken to Paris by Napoleon in 1797 but returned to Venice in 1815. After a long restoration, since 1370s the originals have been kept in St Mark’s Museum inside the basilica and the horses now on the facade of the cathedral are bronze replicas.



Up a very steep and extremely narrow flight of stairs with dozens of other sightseers onto the church balcony overlooking the Piazza ...


The Clock Tower ...


Looking back out towards the lagoon ...




And after an hour or so exploring the Basilica and all its treasures, it's back out onto the Piazza and join another queue for the Doge's Palace ...


one more tourist trap ... !!!


Side corner of the basilica ...



The Doge of Venice was the chief magistrate and leader of the Most Serene Republic of Venice for over a thousand years. 

Doges of Venice were elected for life by the city-state's aristocracy. Commonly the man selected as Doge was the shrewdest elder in the city. The office of the Doge was first instituted in Venice in about 700, replacing tribunes that had led the cluster of early settlements in the lagoon.

The complex election of the Doge ...

The election of the doge was entrusted to a committee of forty, who were chosen by four men selected from the Great Council of Venice, which was itself nominated annually by twelve persons. This method of electing the Doge remained in force until the end of the republic in 1797. Their object was to minimize as far as possible the influence of individual great families, and this was effected by a complex elective machinery. Thirty members of the Great Council, chosen by lot, were reduced by lot to nine; the nine chose forty and the forty were reduced by lot to twelve, who chose twenty-five. The twenty-five were reduced by lot to nine and the nine elected forty-five. Then the forty-five were once more reduced by lot to eleven, and the eleven finally chose the forty-one who actually elected the doge. None could be elected but by at least twenty-five votes out of forty-one, nine votes out of eleven or twelve, or seven votes out of nine electors. … 

... and if you can follow that, you’re a better mathematician than I … !!! … 

The doges normally ruled for life ( although a few were forcibly removed from office ). After a doge's death, a commission of inquisitori passed judgment upon his acts, and his estate was liable to be fined for any discovered malfeasance ( wow - if only our 21st century politicians could be dealt the same fate ... )

The last Doge abdicated in 1797, when Venice passed under the power of Napoleon’s France following his conquest of the city. While Venice would again shortly declare itself a republic, attempting to resist annexation by Austria, it would never revive the dogal style, but used various titles including “dictator”. 

And so after that condensed history lesson - to his Palace ...




A view 0f the Palace from atop the Campanile ...
 
The Doge's Palace was the official court residence plus the law courts and other state offices as well as reception and banqueting halls etc ... Over the centuries, the Palace has been restructured and restored countless times. Due to fires, structural failures, and infiltrations, and new organizational requirements and modifications or complete overhaulings of the ornamental trappings there was hardly a moment in which some kind of works have not been under way at the building. 

Even after the last Dode left, the Palace continued to be used for state and municipal business until the early 20th century and it opened as a museum in 1923. In 2010, it was visited by 1,358,186 people … !!!


Inside the courtyard - formal entrance for the Doge to Saint Marks ( on the left ) ...


Inner court ...


 
The coronation stairs ...
where the Doge was crowned - 
between the naked figures of Mars and Neptune ... !!! ...

  
Unfortunately photography not allowed inside the Palace - however I did sneak a couple of snaps while the guards were pre-occuppied with their i-phones ...

The Golden Staircase entry to the State Chambers ...



One of the ornate state reception halls ...

Then of course there is the famous Bridge of Sighs ...



This structure connects the Palace ( left ) where the trials took place - to the prisons ( right ) ... it was called the Bridge of Sighs because that is exactly what the prisoners did as they were dragged out of the courts across the bridge to serve their terms in the terrible prisons, and took their one last look at the Venice Lagoon below ...


Inside the Bridge of Sighs ...

The prisoner's final view of the lagoon 
minus the tourists and water-taxi of course ...

... and here they spent their time - 
beaten, starved and freezing in squalid cells ...
those that didn't die being tortured ...

And then after going from one extreme to the other, it was back down the coronation steps past Mars and Neptune and out into the now crowded Piazza for this tourist ... 






Time now to leave the crowds and head off into the tourist-free zone for lunch and caffeine ...