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itineraries in venice

St.Mark's Square

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Piazza San Marco - St.Mark's Square - has always been the center of the city. It was called Piazza instead of Campo because even in its name it had to be unique. At the beginning of the 9th century the Piazza was much smaller. The primitive church of San Geminiano stood on its bank facing St. Mark's and the area was grassy with a large orchard planted with vines and fruit trees. At the end of the 12th century the political and commercial power of Venice had become far stronger. Then the Venetians felt the need to give a richer aspect to their Piazza.
So it was extended to embrace nearly the same area that it occupies today: the canal was filled in, and the Church of Geminiano was demolished. At the beginning of the 15th century Mauro Codussi started building the Procuratie Vecchie, the buildings that go down the left side with two floors with loggias. The work was continued under the direction of Bartolomeo Bon in 1512; Jacopo Sansovino completed the bottom end in 1532. The Piazza came to be what it was when Gentile Bellini drew it in his famous painting of the "Procession of the Cross" - Accademy Gallery.
The buildings that go down the right side are called Procuratie Nuove and they were completed in 1640 by Baldassare Longhena. The third side of the Piazza looking towards the Church of St. Mark was occupied by the Church of San Geminiano (the façade had been rebuilt in the 16th cent.). In 1807 the church was demolished by Napoleon's orders with the idea af assing a splendid Ballroom. The work was begun in 1810, on the building of the Ala Napoleonica in neo-classical style.
On the side of the Procuratie Vecchie close to the Church of St. Mark stands the Clock Tower, a fine Renaissance building with coloured enamels and gold: the central part was built after designs by Mauro Codussi (1496-99); the side wings were added between 1500 and 1506The Campanile (the Bell Tower, 98.60 metres high) stands isolated, by the side of the Church of St. Mark. It was begun on already existing Roman foundation in the 9th century and added to at various times from the 12th to the 14th century. It gradually assumed its final appareance at the beginning of the 16th century, between 1511 and 1514. Owing to some unwise work done to its walls, it crumbled onto itself almost unexpectedly on July 14th 1902 about 10 o'clock in the morning. The new tower was inaugurated ten years later, in 1912.
Between the Campanile and the Pool of San Marco opens the Piazzetta of San Marco: in far-off times, it seems that the water came into this space in such a way as to constitute a harbour and to bathe the base of the Campanile and the very foot of the Church of St. Mark. One side of the Piazzetta is occupied by Sansovino Library: this work began in 1537 when the Procurators of San Marco decided to build a new palace by the side of the old hostels and the bakery. Jacopo Sansovino completed the first part of the palace in 1554 and Vincenzo Scamozzi in 1588, after Sansovino's death, took up the work without modifying the original idea. At the 17th arch of the Sansovino Library there is the entrance to the former Palazzo di Zecca (the Mint) now the National Marciana Library (since 1904).


St.Mark's Basilica
The BasilicaThe Basilica of St. Mark is the most important monument in the city. It functioned once as Ducal Chapel. The story of the Basilica began in 828, when the body of St. Mark the Evangelist was brought there and very soon the building of a new church was started to honour the Saint, whom the Venetians acclaimed as the new patron and symbol of their city, in place of the Greek Saint Theodore. Thus the first Church of St. Mark arose and was consacrated in 832. In 976 it was partly destroyed by the fire. It was reconsecrated in 978 and the growing wealth of Venice compelled the Venetians to renew the temple of their protecting Saint, to make it greater and more beautiful. The third Church of St. Mark (the present Basilica) was begun under the reign of doge Domenico Contarini, about 1063 and was solemnly consecrated in 1094.
The Basilica of St. Mark is considered the most solemn monument of Venetian-Byzantine art ever built, until the middle of the 13th century. The 14th century has left traces of the considerable works of restoration which may be seen especially in that daring and fanciful Gothic crown to the façade, of pinnacles, kiosks and crockets.
Inside: the mosaicsOn April 7th 1529, when the fabric was much perished statically from fires and probably from negligence, it was entrusted to the intelligent care of the famous Tuscan architect Jacopo Sansovino. He gave his attention, on one hand to the strenghtening of the external walls and the cupolas which, for many years in danger of crumbling, had been shored up with supports, and on the other hand to the enriching of the fane with the new sculptures and mosaics. With the 17th century the period of the most notable changes and additions closes: it was then that the patient work of preserving, strenghtening and protecting began.

Palazzo Ducale
The Doge's Palace was the Doges' residence, the main administrative building, the public Archives and the Palace of Justice: the most decisive events in the history of the old Republic took place here. The Doge's Palace is for Gothic architecture in Venice what St. Mark's Church was for Veneto-Byzantine art. At the beginning of the 9th century the Doges' Government was transferred there, perhaps at first using as a basis some pre-existing Roman buildings. That residence was destroyed by fire, together with the Basilica in 976 but the Doge Pietro Orseolo restored it. Fire damaged it again in 1106 and it was then rebuilt in such shape and dignity as to inspire the admiration of the Emperor Henry V, at his reception there in 1116. In 1340 it was decided to rebuild a spacious and magnificent new hall for the most august legislative assembly; it was designed and built on the spot and with the dimensions, which have been maintained unchanged down to our days. It took more than 20 years to build, with various interruptions: on July 30, 1419, the Maggior Consiglio held assembly for the first time in the splendid hall. The completion of the whole palace in the façade towards the Piazzetta was started in 1424 by copying the design of the first wing to be built in the 14th century palace. In 1483, after the fire of September 14 (which had caused the destruction of all that part of the edifice between Rio di Palazzo and the Courtyard), Antonio Rizzo from Verona was nominated director of the works in the Palace. This artist possessed a vigorous, stable and well-balanced conception of architecture. In the more austere Façade towards the Rio he left the signs of his powerful genius. But the over-rich marble decorations added to it by the Lombardo family spoiled and enfeebled it with too much detail and elegance, which they were too fond of. Only few and limited adaptations and internal decorations were added to the old edifice of the Palace in the following two centuries until the tragic days of the fall of the old regime. When the Austrians were driven out in the years of the epic rebellion (1848-1849), Daniele Manin set up the provisional government in the Palace and he proclaimed his "Resistance to Austria at all costs" to the people assembled in the Piazzetta on April 2, 1849. But the dangerous static conditions of the centuries-old building made it advisable to prepare a restoration programme (1874). A decree of December 1923 by the Government, passed the Doge's Palace (a State owned monument) back to the supervision of the city.

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