Masked Lady near Hotel Danielli, Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco (Italian pronunciation: [ˈpjatt͡sa san ˈmarko], often known in English as the St Mark's Square), is the principal public square of Venice, Italy, where it is generally known just as "the Piazza" (la Piazza). All other urban spaces in the city (except the Piazzetta and the Piazzale Roma) are called "campi" (fields). The Piazzetta (the 'little Piazza') is an extension of the Piazza towards the lagoon in its south east corner (see plan). The two spaces together form the social, religious and political centre of Venice and are commonly considered together. This article relates to both of them.
A remark usually attributed to Napoleon calls the Piazza San Marco "the drawing room of Europe" (the attribution to Napoleon is unproven).The Piazza is dominated at its eastern end by the great church of St Mark. It is described here by a perambulation starting from the west front of the church (facing the length of the Piazza) and proceeding to the right.
The west facade of St Mark's basilica
The church is described in the article St Mark's Basilica, but there are aspects of it which are so much a part of the Piazza that they must be mentioned here, including the whole of the west facade with its great arches and marble decoration, the Romanesque carvings round the central doorway and, above all, the four horses which preside over the whole piazza and are such potent symbols of the pride and power of Venice that the Genoese in 1379 said that there could be no peace between the two cities until these horses had been bridled; four hundred years later, Napoleon, after he had conquered Venice, had them taken down and shipped to Paris.
The Piazzetta dei Leoncini is an open space on the north side of the church named after the two marble lions (presented by Doge Alvise Mocenigo in 1722), but now officially called the Piazzetta Giovanni XXIII. The neo-classic building on the east side adjoining the Basilica is the Palazzo Patriarcale, the seat of the Patriarch of Venice.
Beyond that is the Clock Tower (Torre dell'Orologio), completed in 1499, above a high archway where the street known as the Merceria (a main thoroughfare of the city) leads through shopping streets to the Rialto, the commercial and financial center. To the right of the clock-tower is the closed church of San Basso, designed by Baldassare Longhena (1675), sometimes open for exhibitions.
To the left is the long arcade along the north side of the Piazza, the buildings on this side are known as the Procuratie Vecchie, the old procuracies, formerly the homes and offices of the Procurators of St. Mark, high officers of state in the days of the republic of Venice. They were built in the early 16th century. The arcade is lined with shops and restaurants at ground level, with offices above. The restaurants include the famous Caffe Quadri, which was patronized by the Austrians when Venice was ruled by Austria in the 19th century, while the Venetians preferred Florian's on the other side of the Piazza.
Turning left at the end, the arcade continues along the west end of the Piazza, which was rebuilt by Napoleon about 1810 and is known as the Ala Napoleonica (Napoleonic Wing). It holds, behind the shops, a ceremonial staircase which was to have led to a royal palace but now forms the entrance to the Museo Correr (Correr Museum).
Opposite to this, standing free in the Piazza, is the Campanile of St Mark's church (1156/73 last restored in 1514), rebuilt in 1912 ' com'era, dov'era ' (as it was, where it was) after the collapse of the former campanile on 14 July 1902. Adjacent to the Campanile, facing towards the church, is the elegant small building known as the Loggetta, built by Sansovino in 1537-46, and used as a lobby by patricians waiting to go into a meeting of the Great Council in the Doges Palace and by guards when the Great Council was sitting.
Across the Piazza in front of the church are three large mast-like flagpoles with bronze bases decorated in high relief by Alessandro Leopardi in 1505. The Venetian flag of St Mark used to fly from them in the time of the republic of Venice and now shares them with the Italian flag.