An early start is necessary to ensure you get where you are going and to hopefully beat the crowds. Venice is a popular city all year round, summer and winter, and there doesn’t appear to be a low season as such. The weather can sometimes be a blessing as passing showers can keep the large crowds at bay and make queuing time shorter. Flooding is common in winter.
Entry to the Basilica can either be a long line shuffling through the doors or a quick step inside. Watch your step as the floor has taken on an undulating feel due to years of flooding. Beneath the altar lies the remains of St Mark, the patron saint of the city. St Mark was actually a replacement patron as the city fathers felt the original one, St Theodore, was lacking in ecclesiastical clout.
The mosaic above the door to the left portrays the bringing of St Marks body back from Alexandria in Egypt in 828. A chapel was constructed to house the remains but burnt down in 932, to be replaced with a more substantial basilica in 1063. During some of the renovations St Marks body was lost but was eventually found and relocated to the crypt beneath the altar.
Above the door way stands the Quadriga on the loggia balcony. These four horses are copies of the originals that are housed inside in the Galleria. They were stolen during the sacking of Constantinople. There is a small fee to enter the Galleria upstairs where you can view the original horses as well as get a great view over the entire Basilica’s interior.
The Palazzo Ducale was begun in the 10thC as the formal residence of the Doges. These men were responsible for the government, administration and justice system for the entire republic of the Veneto. The rooms and hallways are filled from floor to ceiling with paintings, frescoes and sculptures. In particular is one of the largest oil paintings in the world, Tintoretto’s Paradise. Many of the works shown are by Tintoretto, Sansovino and Veronese reflecting the wealth brought to the city by the traders.
You also cross the Ponte Sospiri to the palace prisons offering a chance to get an idea of what the prisoners must have felt on their way to their incarceration. One of the more famous inhabitants was Casanova, the legendary womaniser, imprisoned in 1755 for dealings in the ‘occult’ by the State Inquisition and the only one to successfully escape.
The streets around San Marco area are filled with shops and churches, all offering some more examples of fine art, architecture and craftsmanship. Not least is the impressive Chiesa di Santa Maria della Salute, the church opposite the square marking the entrance to the Grand Canal. This church was built in honour of the Virgin Mary in the 17thC whom the city believed protected them from an outbreak of plague.
Making your way further up the Grand Canal you will reach the 20thC Peggy Guggenheim collection in Dorsoduro. She lived in Palazzo Venier dei Leoni for 30 years before dying in 1979. Her collection contains works by Picasso, Mondrian, Chagall, Ernst, Miro, Magritte, Bacon and Dali. The garden contains more sculptures as well as the graves of Ms Guggenhiem and her dogs.
There is a 10 minute vaporetto ride from Fondamente Nove on the LN line to Murano where the glass artisans have been working their trade since 1291. Venetian glass was one of the most prized items for the wealthy around Europe and it is still revered today. The glass makers were moved here by ducal decree after one too many fires and were also charged with treason if they tried to leave town, such was the prizing of their skill in the craft. Today you can watch them at work on their premises so keep an eye out for signs with ‘fornace’. Some places even offer more structured guided tours and demonstrations.
You can then continue on to Burano from Murano-Faro, the journey takes 30 minutes. Burano is the home to the centuries old tradition of lace making. The lace was an extension of the fishing nets made by the women on the island and became well known in courts around mediaeval Europe as being the finest quality. The island is distinctive also for the bold colours the houses are painted in.
From Burano it takes an hour to reach Venice’s hotspot for celebrity and films- the Lido. The Venice film festival is held here every year attracting the stars from all over Europe and now more commonly non Europeans. Even if the stars are not out there is the beach which gives a bit of respite from the bridges. The resort is not as hip as it once was but the prices are still geared towards those with a bit more cash. The trip back to San Marco should take about 15 minutes.
So there is the best Venice has to offer in 48 hours, all the essentials to get you behind the mask of this unique city.
Katy Hyslop has been wandering around in the European Tourism industry for the past 6 years and is now currently keeping the Plus Office in line. If you want to find out more about opening times and entry fees in Venice visit this page.