Venice: Places to Explore

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Piazza San Marco

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One of the world's most beautiful squares, Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark's Square), a vast open space bordered by an orderly procession of arcades marching toward the fairytale cupolas and marble lacework of the Basilica di San Marco, is the spiritual and artistic heart of Venice. From mid-morning on it's generally packed with tourists. (If Venetians have business in the piazza, they try to conduct it in the early morning, before the crowds swell.) At night it can be magical, especially in winter, when mists swirl around the lampposts and the campanile. And if you can catch it at 6 am, "senza popolo" (without people), it looks like a 3D Canaletto painting from the 18th century.

Piazzetta San Marco is the "little square" leading from Piazza San Marco to the waters of Bacino San Marco (Saint Mark's Basin); its molo (landing) once served as the grand entrance to the Republic. Two imposing columns tower above the waterfront. One is topped by a winged lion, an emblem of Saint Mark that became the symbol of Venice itself; the other supports Saint Theodore, the city's first patron, along with his dragon. Though the columns are a glorious vision today, the Republic traditionally executed convicts between them. Even today, some superstitious Venetians avoid walking between the two columns.

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