Venice Travel Guide


Piazza San Marco

Piazza San Marco, often known in English as St Mark's Square, is the principal square of Venice.

A remark often attributed to Napoleon (but perhaps more correctly to Alfred de Musset) calls the Piazza San Marco "the drawing room of Europe." It is the only great urban space in a European city where human voices prevail over the sounds of motorized traffic, which is confined to Venice's waterways. It is the only urban space called a piazza in Venice; the others, regardless of size, are called campi.

As the central landmark and gathering place for Venice, Piazza San Marco is extremely popular with tourists, photographers and pigeons.

Campo di San Polo

Campo di San Polo is the largest campo in Venice after that of San Marco. It was once the scene of many a bullfight, mass sermons and masked balls. It remains to this day one of the most popular carnival venues and is also used for open air concerts and screenings during the film festival. It also has one of the few fountains to be found in Venice.

Palazzo Ducale

Palazzo Ducale is a gothic palace in Venice.

The current palace was largely constructed from 1309 to 1424 on 9th century origins, designed perhaps by Filippo Calendario. Giovanni and Bartolomeo Buon created the so-called Porta della Carta, a monumental late-gothic gate on the Piazzetta side of the palace.

The palace was the residence of the Doge and contained the offices of a number of political institutions. The first floor was occupied by lawyers offices; the Chancellery; the Censors and the Naval Offices. On the second floor were the Grand Council chamber, the Ballot chamber and the Doge's apartments. The third floor boasts the Sala del Collegio (adorned with paintings, including those of several Doges, and Paolo Veronese's Lepanto) where foreign ambassadors were received. There are rooms used by the government bodies like the Council of Ten as well. The building also contains the Bussola chamber, where citizens could submit written complaints; The Sala dei Tre Capi and the State Inquisitor Room.

Perhaps the most spectacular room is the Grand Council chamber or Sala del Maggior Consiglio, originally the meeting place for the legislature. This huge space is lined, walls and ceiling, with paintings, particularly portraits of the Doges, but one of which, Tintoretto's vast Paradise, is reputedly the world's largest painting on canvas.

Another great room is the Sala dello Scrutinio, with some more Doges, and other interesting paintings, including Andrea Vicentino's Lepanto. At the rear of the palace is the Bridge of Sighs, connecting to the prison.

Ca' d'Oro

Ca' d'Oro (correctly Palazzo Santa Sofia) is one of the most beautiful palazzos on the Grand Canal in Venice. One of the older palazzos, it has always been known as Ca' d'Oro (golden house) due to the gilt and polychrome external decorations which once adorned its walls.

The Palazzo was built between 1428 and 1430 for the Contarini family, who provided Venice with eight Doges between 1043 and 1676. Upon election, each new Doge would leave his own palazzo and take residence in the Doge's Palace.

The architects of the Ca' d'Oro were Giovanni Bon and his son Bartolomeo Bon. The work of these two sculptors and architects epitomises the Gothic style in Venice: they are best known for their work on the Doge's Palace and in particular the Porta della Carta with its monumental sculpture of the judgement of Solomon.

The principal façade of Ca' d'Oro facing onto the Grand Canal is built in the Bon's Venetian floral gothic style. Other nearby buildings in this style are Palazzo Barbaro and the Palazzo Giustinian. This elegant linear style favoured by the Venetian architects was not totally superseded by the flourishes of baroque until the end of the 16th century.

The Venetian Gothic style is Byzantine in appearance. On the Ca' d'Oro's ground floor a recessed colonnaded loggia gives access to the entrance hall (portego de mezo) directly from the canal. Above this colonnade is the enclosed balcony of the principal salon on the piano nobile. The columns and arches of this balcony have capitals which in turn support a row of quatrefoil windows of great delicacy; above this balcony is another enclosed balcony or loggia of a similar yet even lighter design. To describe the style of the palazzo simply:- it is a cross between a medieval church and a Moorish temple. This wedding cake exterior gives no hint that the palazzo is in fact built (like most other Palazzi) around a small inner courtyard.

Following the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797 the palazzo changed ownership several times. One 19th century owner, the ballet dancer Marie Taglioni, removed (in what today can be considered an act of vandalism) the Gothic stairway from the inner courtyard and also destroyed the ornate balconies overlooking the court.

In 1922 the palazzo was bequeathed to the State by its last owner and saviour Baron Giorgio Franchetti who had acquired it in 1894. Following extensive restoration to its former glory (including the reconstruction of the stairway), it is now open to the public as a gallery.

Ca' Rezzonico

Ca' Rezzonico stands on the right bank of the canal, at the point where it is joined by the Rio di San Barnaba. The site was previously occupied by two houses belonging to the Bon family, one of Venice's most aristocratic patrician families. In 1649 the owner, and head of the family, Filippo Bon decided to build a large palazzo on the site, the architect he employed for the purpose was Baldassarre Longhena the greatest exponent of what was later to be known as Venetian Baroque, a style slowly replacing the more floral gothic style of such palazzi as (its near neighbour) Ca' Foscari, and Ca' d'Oro built over 100 years previously. However neither Architect nor client were to see the completion of the Palazzo Bon, Longhena died in 1682, and Filippo Bon suffered a financial collapse.

The design of the palazzo was of a marble façade facing the canal. The façade was to be on three floors. The ground floor rusticated, containing a central recessed portico of three bays without a pediment, symmetrically flanked by windows in two bays. Above this the first piano nobile of seven bays of arched windows, separated by pilasters, above this the second piano nobile was identical, and above this a mezzanine floor of low oval windows. The slight projection of the two tiers of balconies to the piani nobili accentuate the baroque decoration and design of the building. The palazzo today follows this form, although it was not finished until 1756 by the architect Giorgio Massari, who had been brought in to oversee the completion of the project by the new owners - the Rezzonico Family. Massari however, seems to have followed closely the original ideas and plans of Longhena, with the addition of some concepts of his own which reflected the change in ideals of architecture between the palazzo's conception and its completion 100 years later.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is a small museum on the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy. It is one of several museums of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

Containing prinicipally the personal art collection of Peggy Guggenheim (1898–1979), a former wife of artist Max Ernst and a niece of mining magnate Solomon R. Guggenheim, this museum houses a somewhat smaller and more idiosyncratic collection than the other Guggenheim Foundation museums. However, the works on display include those of prominent American modernists and Italian futurists. Pieces in the collection embrace Cubism, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. These include notable works by Picasso, Dali, Brancusi (including a sculpture from the Bird in Space series) and Pollock.

The collection is housed in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, an unfinished 18th century palazzo which was never built past the ground floor level. In one room, the museum also exhibits a few paintings by her daughter Pegeen Vail. In the courtyards between the main buildings are sculpture gardens containing an extensive collection of works.

Its most famous (or notorious) exhibit is the 1948 bronze "The Angel of the City" by Marino Marini, positioned at the front of the palazzo, facing the Grand Canal. It is rumoured that this nude and clearly excited horse rider was originally possessed of a screw-in (sic) demountable penis so that it could be removed in order to avoid offending passing VIPs. So many of the bronze phalluses were stolen (although this may be an urban myth), that the current member has been welded to the Angel's body.

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is the most important museum in Italy for European and American art of the first half of the 20th century. Philip Rylands is the museum's current director.

Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo

The Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo (also called Palazzo Contarini Minelli dal Bovolo) is a a small palace in Venice, best known for the external spiral staircase with a plethora of arches, known as the Scala Contarini del Bovolo (of the snail). The palace dates from the 1400s and is apparently in poor state of restoration, while the staircase leads to an arcade provides a charming panoramic vista over some of the roof-tops of the city. The palace is located in a less-traveled side-street near the Campo Manin, near the Rialto.

Entrance to the Tower is 2-4 Euros; and the Tower is open April to October from 10Am to 4PM. The remainder of the year it is open only on Saturday and Sundays.

Fondaco dei Turchi

The Fondacho dei Turchi, or Fondega dei Turchi, is a 13th century palazzo on the Grand Canal of Venice. The building then was a combination home, warehouse, and market for traders. Its name derives from the its assignment in the fourteenth century to the Turks (Ottomans). Originally the site belonged to the Duke of Ferrara.

Because of the suspicions held for the muslim Turkish traders, despite the commercial allure, the windows of the fondaco were sealed; and rooms were lit only from an interior courtyard. There was an enclosing wall and gates; and the gates, like those in the ghetto were closed at night). The two corner turrets on the landside, which might serve for defence, were razed. Now the building houses the Venetian Museum of Natural history with historical collections of flora and fauna, fossils, and an aquarium.

Palazzo Labia

Palazzo Labia, is a Venetian baroque palazzo or palace built at the beginning of the 18th century. It is one of the last great palazzi of Venice. Little known outside of Italy, it is most notable for the remarkable frescoed ballroom painted between (1746-47) by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, with decorative works in trompe l'oeil by Gerolamo Mengozzi-Colonna.

In a city often likened to a cardboard filmset, the Palazzo is unusual by having not only a canal front, but also a visible and formal facade at its rear, coupled with a decorated side too. In Venice, such design is very rare. The palazzo was designed by the architect Andrea Cominelli, the principal facade is on the Cannaregio Canal; a lesser three bayed facade faces the Grand Canal. A third facade designed by Alessandro Tremignon (1635-1711) is approached from the Campo San Geremia.

St Mark's Basilica

The Basilica di San Marco in Venezia is the most famous of the churches of Venice and one of the best known examples of Byzantine architecture. It lies on St Mark's Square, adjacent and connected to the Doge's Palace and has been the seat of the Patriarch of Venice, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice since 1807. The church is based on a Greek cross floorplan, based in part on the Hagia Sophia and the Basilica of the Apostles, both in Constantinople. It has a raised choir with a crypt beneath. The plan of the interior consists of three longitudinal and three transverse naves. Over the high altar is a baldacchino on columns decorated with eleventh-century reliefs; the altarpiece is the famous Pala d'Oro (Golden Pall), Byzantine metal-work of the year 1105, originally designed for an antependium. Behind the high altar is another altar with alabaster columns. The choir stalls are embellished with inlaying by Fra Sebastiano Schiavone, and above them on both sides are three reliefs by Sansovino. On the two marble pulpits of the ambo are statuettes by the Massegne brothers (1394). Also in the choir are Sansovino's bronze statues of the Evangelists and Caliari's of the Four Doctors.

The basilica was consecrated in 1094, the same year as in which the body of Saint Mark was supposedly rediscovered in a pillar by Vitale Falier, doge at the time. The crypt then housed the relics until 1811. The building also incorporates a low tower, believed by some to have been part of the original Doge's Palace.

The spacious interior of the building with its multiple choir lofts was the inspiration for the development of a Venetian polychoral style among the composers appointed maestro di cappella at St Mark's.

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

The Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute (Basilica of St Mary of Health/Salvation), commonly known simply as the Salute, is one of the largest churches of Venice and has the status of a minor basilica. It stands at the junction between the Grand Canal and the Bacino di San Marco on the lagoon.

In October 1630, the Senate decreed that if the city was delivered from the currently raging plague that had killed about a third of Venice's population, then a new church would be built and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Baldassare Longhena, then only 26 years old, was selected to design the new church. It was finally completed in 1681, the year before Longhena's death.

Every year, on 21 November, the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin, the city's officials processed from San Marco to the Salute for a service of thanksgiving for deliverance from the plague. This involved crossing the Grand Canal on a specially constructed pontoon bridge. The Festa della Madonna della Salute is still a major event in Venice.

The Salute is a vast, octagonal building built on a platform made of 100,000 wooden piles. It is constructed of Istrian stone and marmorino (brick covered with marble dust). While its external decoration and location capture the eye, the internal design itself is quite remarkable. The octagonal church, while ringed by a classic vocabulary, hearkens to Byzantine designs such as the Basilica of San Vitale. The interior has its architectural elements demarcated by the coloration of the material, and the central nave with its ring of saints atop a balustrade is a novel design. It is full of Marian symbolism - the great dome represents her crown, the cavernous interior her womb, the eight sides the eight points on her symbolic star. The Salute is part of the parish of the Gesuati.


The Accademia di Belle Arti is Venice’s school of art and is uniformly known throughout Venice as the Accademia. Situated on the south bank of the Grand Canal, it gives its name to one of the three bridges across the canal, the Ponte dell'Accademia, and to the boat landing station for the vaporetto water bus. The Gallerie dell’Accademia is the home of one of the world’s greatest specialised art collections and is one of the main tourist destinations in Venice.

Venetian Arsenal

The Arsenale di Venezia is a shipyard and naval depot that played a leading role in Venetian empire-building. It was one of the most important areas of Venice, lying in the Castello sestiere.

The Byzantine-style establishment may have existed as early as the 8th century, though the present structure is usually said to have been begun in 1104, although there is no evidence for such a precise date. It definitely existed by the early thirteenth century and is mentioned in Dante's Inferno. The name probably comes from Arabic Dar al Sina’a ("Dockyard") and the concept was clearly Islamic as much as Byzantine.

Initially the state dockyard worked merely to maintain naval ships built privately, but in 1320 the Arsenal Nuovo was built, much larger than the original. It enabled all the state's navy and the larger merchant ships to be both constructed and maintained in one place. The Arsenal incidentally became an important centre for rope manufacture, while housing for the arsenal workers grew up outside its walls.

Venice developed methods of mass-producing warships in the Arsenal, including the frame-first system to replace the Roman hull-first practice. The new system was much faster and required less wood. At the peak of its efficiency in the early 16th century, the Arsenal employed some 16,000 people who apparently were able to produce nearly one ship each day, and could fit out, arm, and provision a newly-built galley with standardized parts on a production-line basis not seen again until the Industrial Revolution.

La Fenice

Teatro La Fenice ("The Phoenix") is an opera house in Venice, Italy. It is one of the most famous theatres in Europe, the site of many famous operatic premieres. Its name reflects its role in permitting an opera company to "rise from the ashes" despite losing the use of two theatres (to fire and legal problems respectively). Since opening and being named La Fenice, it has twice burned and been rebuilt.

Rialto Bridge

The Rialto Bridge (Italian: Ponte di Rialto) spans the Grand Canal in Venice. It is the oldest bridge across the canal and probably the most famous in the city.

The first dry crossing of the Grand Canal was a pontoon bridge built in 1181 by Nicolò Barattieri. It was called the Ponte della Moneta, presumably because of the mint that stood near its eastern entrance.

The development and importance of the Rialto market on the eastern bank increased traffic on the floating bridge. So it was replaced around 1250 by a wooden bridge. This structure had two inclined ramps meeting at a movable central section, that could be raised to allow the passage of tall ships. The connection with the market eventually led to a change of name for the bridge. During the first half of the 15th century two rows of shops were built along the sides of the bridge. The rents brought an income to the State Treasury, which helped maintain the bridge.

Bridge of Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs or Ponte dei Sospiri is one of many bridges in Venice. It passes over the Rio di Palazzo and connects the old prisons to the interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace. The bridge was built in the 16th century and only given the name Bridge of Sighs in the 19th century, by Lord Byron. The bridge is of white limestone. Windows with stone bars are on the summit of this enclosed bridge. The name comes from the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice out the window before being taken down to their cells.

Venetian Lagoon

The Venetian Lagoon is a lagoon off the Adriatic Sea in which the city of Venice is situated. The Venetian Lagoon has a surface area of around 550km². It is around 8% land, including Venice itself and many smaller islands. About 11% is permanently water, or canal as the dredged channels are called, while around 80% is mud flats and salt marshes.

It is connected to the Adriatic Sea by three inlets: Lido Inlet, Malamocco Inlet and Chioggia Inlet. Being at the end of a closed sea, the Lagoon is subject to high variations in water level, the most extreme being the spring tides known as the acqua alta (Italian for "high waters"), which regularly flood much of Venice.

The Lagoon originally provided the security for Romanised people fleeing invaders from the sixth century and the conditions for the growth of the Venetian Republic and its maritime empire. It still provides a base for a seaport, the Venetian Arsenal and for fishing, as well as a limited amount of hunting and the newer industry of fish farming.


Burano is an island in the Venetian Lagoon, although like Venice itself it could more correctly be called an archipelago of islands linked by bridges. It lies near Torcello at the northern end of the Lagoon, and is known for its lacework. The island was probably settled by the Romans, and in the sixth century was occupied by people from Altino, who named it for one of the gates of their former city. Two stories are attributed to how the city obtained its name. One is that it was initially founded by the Buriana family, and another is that the first settlers of Burano came from the small island of Buranello, five miles to the south.


Venice's Lido is an 11-mile long sandbar, home to about 20,000 residents, greatly augmented by the (mainly Italian) tourists who move in every summer. The island's casino has recently closed down - it used to operate in the summer months, moving to a palazzo in Venice for the winter. (dubious assertion—see talk page) The Venice film festival takes place at Lido every September. The island is home to three settlements. The Lido itself, in the north, is home to the Film Festival, the Grand Hotel de Bains, the Venice Casino and the Grand Hotel Excelsior. Malamocco, in the centre, was long the only settlement and at one time home to the Doge of Venice. Alberoni at the southern end is home to the Fort San Nicolo and a golf course.


Murano is usually described as an island in the Venetian Lagoon, although like Venice itself it is actually an archipelago of islands linked by bridges. It lies about a mile north of Venice and is famous for its glass making, particularly lampworking. Murano was settled by the Romans, then from the sixth century by people from Altino and Oderzo. At first, the island prospered as a fishing port and through production of salt. It was also a centre for trade, through the port it controlled on Sant'Erasmo. From the eleventh century, it began to decline as islanders moved to Dorsoduro. It had a Grand Council, like that of Venice, but from the thirteenth century Murano was ultimately governed by a podesta from Venice. Unlike the other islands in the Lagoon, Murano minted its own coins.

Isola di San Michele

San Michele, nicknamed The Island of the Dead, is the cemetery island of Venice. It is associated with the sestiere of Cannaregio from which it lies a short distance north east. Along with neighbouring San Cristoforo della Pace, the island was a popular place for local travellers and fishermen to land. Mauro Codussi's Chiesa di San Michele in Isola of 1469, the first Renaissance church in Venice, and a monastery lie on the island.


Sant'Erasmo is an island in the Venetian Lagoon lying north of the Lido and north east of Venice. The island was a port attached to Murano in the 8th century, but is now known for market gardening. Ruined fortifications including the Fort of Maximillian ring the isle, while an annual boat race takes place around it. Sant'Erasmo is also known for the waders on sand banks in the Lagoon around it.

San Lazzaro degli Armeni

Saint Lazarus Island is a small island in the Venetian Lagoon, lying immediately west of the Lido; completely occupied by a monastery that is the mother-house of the Mekhitarist Order, the island is one of the world's foremost centers of Armenian culture.


Torcello is a quiet island at the northern end of the Venetian Lagoon. After the downfall of the Roman Empire Torcello was one of the first lagoon islands to be successively populated by those Veneti who fled the terra ferma (mainland) to take shelter from the recurring barbarian invasions, especially after Attila the Hun had destroyed the city of Altinum and all of the surrounding settlements in 452. Although the hard-fought Veneto region formally belonged to the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna since the end of the Gothic War, it remained unsafe on account of frequent Germanic invasions and wars: During the following 200 years the Langobards and the Franks fuelled a permanent influx of sophisticated urban refugees to the island’s relative safety, including the Bishop of Altino himself: In 638 Torcello became the bishop’s official see for more than a thousand years and the people of Altinum brought with them the relics of Saint Eliodorus, now the patron saint of the island.


Originally known as the Spinalunga, the island may have been renamed for the Jewish people who settled there. Historically an area of large palaces with gardens, the island became an industrial area in the early twentieth century with shipyards and factories in addition to a film studio. The Giudecca went into decline with the closure of much of the industry after World War II, but is now regarded as an exclusive area in which to live. It is known for its long dock and its churches, including Il Redentore. San Giorgio Maggiore lies off its eastern tip.