24 March 2014

Piazza San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale

Considering it's been almost years since I was last in Venice I suppose it's not surprising that I don't recall much about the city. What was stamped on my brain though was the Piazza San Marco. And not surprising; it's a pretty unforgettable sight.

The square, surrounded by shopping arcades, the Palazzo Ducale, and of course Chiesa San Marco itself is home to some of the most expensive cafes in Venice, likely 80% of the city's pigeon population, and (for me at least) one most unforgettable views in the city. In the summer there's always a line to get into the San Marco so keep that in mind, but in March there was no waiting.

Built between 1084 and 1117, San Marco (or the Basilica of Saint Mark if you prefer) is a gold mine* of Italio-Byzantine architecture. It blows away every other Byzantine-style church I've visited. The combination of different colored marble, mosaics, sculptures, scallops, and domes is a truly breathtaking vision. Annoyingly, many churches in Venice do not allow photographs inside, even sans flash. Which means I don't have any pictures to illustrate the absolutely breathtaking mosaics inside so I encourage Googling it. It also means I'm posting a zillion pictures of the exterior.

Europe seems to love its astronomical clocks

Exterior mosaics depicting events in the life of Christ
On Sunday, our last day in Venice, we attended the 10.30 AM High Mass. I was thrilled as, complete with choir, Latin, a loooooong winded homily, and wretched incense I felt like I was back in my former church in DC. However, because any pews that may have sat in the center of the church have been removed, simple folding chairs were set out for Mass and crowded together in such a way as to make kneeling, unless you happened to vertically challenged, completely impossible.

The Last Judgement

TripAdvisor has become my travel Bible. It's how I find hotels, restaurants, and often things to do. As such it is how I found our hotel for Venice. We visited the weekend after Carnivale so prices were largely back to their normal low season amounts but the city was still busy. I was hoping for something fairly central, hopefully located either in San Marco or Castello, and something reasonably priced. When you're unemployed reasonably priced takes on a new meaning.

TripAdvisor directed me to the Hotel Casa Petrarca. Located almost smack dab between the Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco it certainly won the location test. And for only 270 Euro for two people for three nights, it ticked the reasonably priced box in a big way!

In addition to great location and price, Casa Petrarca also had a great staff who directed us to fantastic restaurants and activities. At their recommendation, we booked a ticket for the Secret Itinerary tour of the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace). At a mere 4 Euro more per ticket it's entirely worth it. In addition to being able to wander around the museum parts you get access to on the regular ticket, we received a guided tour of the secret rooms in the Palace, the history of the Venetian Secret Service, and got to see the cells where the famous Casanova was kept.

The below is one of the secret rooms. Pictures aren't allowed in most of these rooms but I snapped this before we were told they weren't allowed so...fair game. Offices of the secret service members were quite plain as can be seen here. If I remember correctly, this office belonged to one of the highest ranking members of the Council of 10 as the service was called. So while a luxuriously appointed corner office was not a job perk, major influence in the Venetian Government and impressive salaries more than made up for the plain work space.

*Almost literally-apparently one of the Basilica's nicknames is Chiesa d'Oro (Golden Church) due to the number of gold tiles used on both the exterior and interior mosaics.

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