Venice
 
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Venice – Piazza San Marco

Piazza San Marco Venice
The heart of Venice beats at Piazza San Marco, center of the city more than a millennium. Since the founding of Venice, the doge's (ducal leader's) house, the church of St. Mark, and the bell tower (campanile), have been landmarks of the piazza. As Venice expanded in importance, the Basilica of St. Mark was the most opulent in Christendom, the doge's palace became the center of government, and the campanile, when it fell down in 1902, was promptly put back up. With kids, take your time exploring Piazza San Marco, and come back more than once, each time there's something new to see.
  Campanile Before you go into St. Mark's Basilica, take the elevator up the Bell Tower (Campanile) in the Piazza. From the bell tower kids will get a bird's eye view of Venice, and the pigeons in the square down below. It's a great way to get a feel for the shape of the city, and from that vantage point, there are rooftops galore, but the network of canals aren't visible.
Basilca of San Marco Venice
  St. Mark's Basilica (Basilica di San Marco) – Venice has two patron saints, St. Theordor and St. Mark. St. Theodore was there first, but in the 9th century, two Venetian merchants stole St. Mark's body from Alexandria. St. Mark found a permanent resting place in the church on this site. In the shadows of the basilica, look for yards of exquisite mosaics adorned with gold.
Bronze Horse Venice
   

Climb up onto the Loggia of the church to see the four life-size gilded copper horses, brought from Constantinople in the 13th century. These horses really got around – in 1797 Napoleon carried them off, but returned the horses to Venice a few years later.

   

Entrance to the loggia also includes museum (which houses the original bronze horses). In the museum kids can see mosaics up close, thousands of shimmering gold and glass tesserae, views of the church from high up (looking down over the crossing), and wooden models of the Basilica.

    Treasury Older kids will enjoy a turn through the Treasury, exquisite examples of gold treasures from Byzantium – chalices, enamels icons studded with precious stones, gilded Gothic candlesticks, and reliquaries of all kinds containing bones and other Christian artifacts. Don't miss of arm reliquary of St. George and icon of archangel Michael.
    Pala d'Oro is an altarpiece decorated with thousands of garnets, rubies, pearls and sapphires. In front the altarpiece is the sarcophagus of St. Mark.
    Floor mosaics – Be sure to look down at the floor mosaics – geometric patterns and fabulous creatures – as you go through the basilica.
    Read our blog post Tips for visiting St. Mark's Basilica – how to avoid long lines, find the only restroom inside, and discover golden treasures.
Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale) – Situated right next to the Basilica is the gleaming pink and white Doge's Palace, once the center of Venetian government. Step up the Scala d'Oro, the grand staircase with frescoes embellished with real gold. Kids may prefer the Armoury filled with antique weapons to all the Tintorettos, but in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio, don't miss the battle paintings, Fall of Constantinople and Battle of Salvore. And be sure to finish up your visit, crossing over the Bridge of Sighs and exploring the state prison (Venetians were famous for popping people into the dungeons).
  Tower of the Clock (Torre dell'Orologio) Kitty corner to the Basilica is the clock tower, marking time, phases of the moon, seasons and signs of the zodiac for over 500 years. At the very top of the tower, are two bronze figures, "the Moors." On the hour, the figure rotates his arm and the bell chimes quite loudly. The clock tower is also ornamented with an especially lovely lion of St. Mark, on a background of blue and gold stars.
  Caffe Florian – If you're looking for a splurge treat, stop into the oldest cafe in Italy, founded in 1720. You can sit outside on the piazza, but for the full effect, sit inside, where you can enjoy red velvet banquettes, gilded walls and painted ceilings. Tea would be traditional, but desserts and hot chocolate are fun.
Lions in Piazza San Marco
  Look for the lions – St. Mark is the patron saint of Venice, symbolized by the winged lion. You'll find wonderful examples of the lion of St. Mark all around the Piazza San Marco – on the clock tower, the entrance to the Doge's Palace, the bronze gate in front of the campanile, on the exterior of the Basilica, on the eastern column in the Piazetta, kids can climb on the red marble lion in the square next to the north side of the Basilica, and more.
  After you've had enough indoor stuff, head down the piazza towards the water, passing by the two granite columns, one topped with the winged lion, the other St. Teodoro. To the west is a small public garden, the Giardini Ex Reali. It has benches, trees, and it's a good place to sit down and enjoy a gelato.
  Stroll down the Riva degli Schiavoni – A typical Venetian thing to do is take a stroll, and it's a great walk from Piazza San Marco east, down the wide promenade, the Riva degli Schiavoni. Bustling and busy, it's also a great place to watch the boats go by – large car ferries, vaporetti, water taxis, tugs, red and white fire boats, gondolas, cruise ships, pleasure motor boats in all shapes and sizes.
family tours san marco venice italy
 

Take a private family walking tour around Piazza San Marco and the Rialto, as you discover hidden treasures and history of this fascinating city, and find winged lions along the way:

Lion Hunt
travel for kids | italy | venice | piazza san marco
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