The largest plot of open space in Venice, Piazza San Marco is also the most elegant spot in the city. The most admired sights in Venice are located here - the eye-popping Basilica of San Marco, the skyward-reaching bell tower known as the Campanile, and the decorative Ducal Palace are all the most recognized monuments on the map. Add in the nearby sights like the Bridge of Sighs, the famed Harry's Bar, and the waterfront promenade and marketplace of Riva degli Schiavoni and you could easily spend a couple days right in this corner of Venice!

The Duomo anchors the vast piazza with its plethora of domes and Eastern-inspired facade. St. Mark's is paved with marble and hedged by Renaissance era arcaded buildings, which makes it feel intimate, but it is actually an enormous space capable of containing a huge crowd. This piazza has been the stage of centuries' worth of history, parades, ceremonies, invasions, take-overs, and festivities. It is refined, inviting, and magical in both daylight and moonlight.

The far end is closed by the Museo Correr, also known as the Napoleanica, a neoclassical palace built by Napoleon to host balls and galas. It now houses the art collection of Teodoro Correr, donated to the city in 1830, with treasures by the likes of Bellini, Carpaccio, Venziano, Tintoretto and Canova, along with a rare coin collection, maps and more. The splendor of the palace itself is worth the visit.

The Procuratie Vecchie was home and seat of the procurators, the officials of state of the Republic of Venice, built in the 16th century. The Torre dell'Orologio was erected in 1499 in early Venetian Renaissance style; the lower level is a tiumphal arch while the upper facade boasts the timepiece of Venice. On the roof are two bronze figures that strike the time on the bell, which was cast in 1497. Caffe Florian is an institution on Piazza San Marco, Italy's oldest caffe. Established in 1720, it has continually served a vast array of dignitaries, nobility, and everyday folk in its richly decorated and frescoed rooms. Gilded mirrors, antique furnishings, and jacketed waiters give it the elegance you'd expect.

The Piazzetta dei Lioncini is on the north side, named for the two marble lions. The water-side entrance to St. Mark's Square is flanked by two ancient columns, brought here from Constantinople in the 12th century. Next to them is the gleaming Palazzo Ducale, the seat of Venetian reign for centuries. Here, on the Grand Canal, is the annual "marriage of the sea", a traditional ceremony that weds Venice to its life-source. The Doge would cast a wedding band into the canal in symbolic union.

Piazza San Marco is the center of civic life and hosts concerts, orchestras, parties, and official ceremonies throughout the year. It is alive with activity all day and all night, and should be seen at different times of day to see how the mood and life of this monumental place keeps pace with its visitor and residents.

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Address in Venice:

Piazza San Marco.

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