This is the blog of Steve Burkett of Italy, Our Italy

Evening at Piazza San Marco

The Contrast

USA: Dinner, a drive, a movie, a bed.

Venice: Dinner...lingering over dinner...a stroll through quiet streets...orchestral music on the Piazza San Marco until the midnight bell bed.

Three of the restaurants on the Piazza have orchestra stands from which music entertains you througout the evening

There is a big difference between the evenings in Italy and in the US.

Dinner in Italy is unhurried. There is no rush. Your dinner partner(s) and waitstaff are your entertainment. Each course arrives at just the appropriate time. The wine level in the bottle seems to lower at just the right pace. There is no rush. A grappa will be offered at some point after dessert. There is no rush. There is no rush. You've finally gotten it through your head...there is no rush. You won't receive your bill until you ask for it...'Il Conto, per favore'. Never were you rushed. This is your evening.

And after dinner? When the sun dims, the evening begins to shine for us. The heat of the day has been lifted. Campos which were full of vendors during the day have been miraculously cleared for outdoor dining. People are laughing and having a good time. After dinner, those fortunate to stay overnight in Venice are heading to Piazza San Marco for the nightly concert...or should I say, concerts.

The Piazza

There is only one gathering space in Venice large enough to be called a 'piazza' -- the rest are piazzetta or campo. Surrounded on three sides by consistent city buildings and on the fourth by the Basilica San Marco, Piazza San Marco is huge. 

Here is a photo of the Piazza that was taken in January from the balcony of the Basilica...if you haven't been to Venice, trust me that only in the winter will you find so few people here.  

Panorama of Piazza San Marco taken from the balcony of Basilica San Marco

The Campanile

Note that you can see the base of the Campanile (bell tower) in the photo. Here is the top of the Campanile, where the bell is located. The bell tolls an important event in your evening.


Original Campanile in ruins after its collapse

But, this is not the original campanile which was completed in 1514. Here is a photo of the original campanile, after its collapse on July 14, 1902 at 9:45am. Not as tall as it was the day before. Today's campanile was completed in 1912. And alas, though there were 5 bells (all tuned to a different octave of 'A') in the original campanile, each named and having its own tolling function, four of the bells were destroyed in the disaster, so that today there is only one bell.

A few of the pigeons of the Piazza

One of the joys...I guess it's a joy...are the pigeons of the piazza. In the past, one could purchase bird feed to attract these pesky birds. But, the wise city fathers have now prohibited the act to try to reduce the number of pigeons on the piazza. 


Concert Time

In the two photos below, which were taken in the evening from the Campanile, you see the sights of your entertainment for the evening. 

Western end of the Piazza San Marco

North side of the Piazza San Marco

Three of the restaurants on the Piazza have orchestra stands from which music entertains you througout the evening. On the left in the top photo is the Caffe Florian. In the lower photo are Ristorante Quadri on the left and Cafe Lavena on the right.

To avoid the cacophony of sound that would result from all of the orchestras playing at the same time, they take turns. So, if you stand in the middle of the Piazza, you can wander from one side to the other to enjoy the music. Want to dance with your partner? Go ahead. Want to sit down for a cappuccino or soda? Go ahead, but expect to pay a hefty cover charge. But either way, you will enjoy the evening of music.

Here are some photos of the musicians as they make their music...just for you. 

The orchestra of Caffe Florian

The Evening's End

At midnight, all will be finished. You will know the time by the one, solitary tolling of the Marangona bell of the campanile. It's now time to return to your hotel. Tomorrow will bring many more memories for the two of you in the world's most magical city.

No dinner and a movie here...just dinner and memories to last a life time. 


Ciao for now,


The Sestiere of Venice

Every once in a while, I’ll tell you more about a particular sestiere, in order of my personal preference for visiting. Today, I give you the sestiere of San Marco.


Last week I told you about the Punta della Dogana, and in that description, I mentioned the 'sestiere' of Venice, and I promised to explain what they are about.

The word 'sestiere means 'district' in English. In Venice, there are 6 such districts, or sestiere. 


Sestiere Overview

Here is a map of the six sestiere.


If you count the colors and names, above, you will actually see seven districts. This is because the Giudecca along the bottom of the map, though technically one of the districts, is not traditionally counted among those of Venice, proper. Nor is the Lido, which would be still lower on the map if it was displayed. And there are many other area of the Venetian lagoon which are not counted in the sestiere, like Murano and Burano.

The 'ferro' of this gondola has representations of the sestiere of Venice. The six rectangular bars protruding to the left represent each sestiere, while the one aimed to the right represents the afore-mentioned Giudecca. The other, fancier protuberances to the left? Unofficial embellishments by the owner.

Each of these districts has its own charms -- some more popular than others, and thus, some are much, much more crowded. But if you want to be where the action is...where the main attractions sit, you may well want to find lodging within these popular sestiere. Here's the thing: many of the tourists who descend on Venice during the day are not actually staying on the Venetian island, and most vanish around 5pm each afternoon to catch a bus back to the mainland.

Every once in a while, I'll tell you more about a particular sestiere, in order of my personal  preference for visiting. Today, I give you the sestiere of San Marco. 

Introduction to San Marco (Saint Mark)

In this photo, I'll put some focus on the sestiere of San Marco. This photo gives you an idea of the true size of Venice. Though San Marco is one of the smallest of the sestiere, you can see in the photo below that there are many, many buildings in its warrens. For you, that means that there is much to explore!

The sestiere of San Marco is chock-a-block full of marvelous sites, restaurants and hotels. First and foremost is the Piazza San Marco (the most obvious area of the photo, above), where you will find, besides the huge piazza itself, the Basilica San Marco and the Doge's Palace. The Museo Correr, within one of the buildings which form the piazza, is an excellent way for you to find out about the ancient town where you now find yourself.

A side note regarding the Piazza San Marco: there is only one 'piazza' within Venice, given the moniker because of its size; the rest of the public open areas are called either a 'campo' or a 'piazzetta'. 

San Marco is also where the beautifully-restored La Fenice opera house is located. Also in San Marco are the large campi of Santo Stefano and Sant'Angelo, which can be seen within the bend of the Grand Canal to the left of the photo.

Shopping San Marco

Shopping? My gosh but there is a lot to buy within the confines of San Marco. From trinkets and hand-fashioned glass, to designer labels of every sort.

My wife, Ellen, has twice purchased frames for her eyeglasses within San Marco. Here is a pair, though, that she did not buy!

The two main shopping streets are Calle Larga Ventidue Marzo, which connects the Piazza San Marco with Campo Santo Stefano, and the interlinked Merceria San Zulian and Merceria Orologio, which lead from the Rialto Bridge to Piazza San Marco.

The Look of San Marco

So, San Marco is where the action is. If you visit Venice and do not travel to San Marco, you really haven't been to Venice, at all. In the photo below, all of what you see along the water in this photo is within the district of San Marco.

A panorama of a good bit of San Marco, taken from the campanile of the church of San Giorgio Maggiore

Here are a few photos that I've taken within San Marco's boundaries.

Digitally painted, hidden-away area of San Marco

And here is the Piazza San Marco, which Napoleon dubbed 'Europe's Drawing Room'.

A view of the massive Piazza San Marco from the balcony of Basilica San Marco

Sleeping San Marco

Our favorite place to stay in San Marco is the Hotel Flora. This hotel is an oasis of tranquility withing the hubbub of San Marco. Here are a couple of photos of this quaint hotel. The windows at the top of the hotel...ours. 

Eating San Marco

Our favorite San Marco restaurant? That would be Antico Martini. This excellent restaurant has been in continuous operation since 1720. Here are a couple of photos of Antico Martini, both current and very old.

So, that's the sestiere of San Marco. If you go to Venice, you need to spend at least one-whole day in this essential district. Want to see some of the out of the way places? I'll take you there.


Ciao for now,



My Twitter feed...

And now for something entirely different!

The other significant difference between this church and others? It’s that the...well, I’ll tell you the difference below in a bit...see if you can tell before you get there!

In last weeks blog we visited a fabulous off-the-beaten-path, seldom-visited church in Albogasio, Italy. With its clean lines and beautiful painted art works, it couldn't be more dissimilar to the church I will show you today -- the Basilica San Marco. San Marco is the antithesis of that little Albogasio church in so many ways.

One way is that the Basilica sits right-smack-dab in Piazza San Marco in Venice and has hundreds-of-thousands of visitors each year.  This photo which shows the exterior was taken in January, 2004, on a cold and dreary day. 

[click an image to see a larger view]

Notice the exterior embellishments, like these protected saints enclosed in their spires, visible in this more recent photo.


The other significant difference between this church and others? It's that the...well, I'll tell you the difference below in a bit...see if you can tell before you get there!


This church's embellishments date from the 11th century. In the crypt you will find the bones of Venice's patron saint, St Mark, whose body was whisked away from the Muslim authorities in a daring raid in Alexandria, Egypt in the year 828.

Before you even enter the church, you are treated to magnificent Biblical scenes like this one above the entrance to the church.

In the portico before entering the church, you can see art works depicting Old and New Testament Biblical stories, one of which includes, among other stories, the Genesis story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Can you identify any of the other Biblical stories?

We are now inside the church.

This photo from the left transept shows a bit of the art work and the scale of the church, which was originally designated as the Doge's private chapel. The Doge was the elected leader of Venice -- no monarchy in Venice!

Here you can see the Pala d'Oro, which is gold altar screen embellished with precious jewels.

Can't see the jewels? Here is a more detailed view.

Another interior photo showing religious scenes. Have you figured out what makes this church so unique?


Ready for the big reveal that I promised earlier?


Every art work -- inside and out -- that you've seen in the photos above is composed of mosaics, like these. That's about 90,000 square feet of colorful mosaic tiles.

Here you can see just how colorful these mosaic art works are as Samson and David take a bit of time to sit and talk about their trials and tribulations.

Here is another masterpiece with some rather rough-looking angels meting out justice.

Not convinced that all you see is mosaic? Here is a detailed view of the photo above.

I was fortunate to capture the morning sun streaming through upper windows for this award-winning photo.

Is this is still a functioning church? It sure is. Below you see prayer candles and a liturgical chant awaiting the Bishop of this Archdiocese.

I'll close with more interior photos from this gorgeous church. Remember that you can click on a photo to see a larger view.

So, now you have seen two very distinctly different churches of Italy. The simple, yet elegantly refined church at Albogasio and the more famous Basilica San Marco of Venice. Both are testaments to the faithful artisans who embellished them as a way to glorify their Lord and Saviour. 


Ciao for now,


p.s. feel free to leave a comment in the box below.