Saturday, June 30, 2012

Piazza San Marco, Venice

After a nice, relaxing breakfast at our hotel (the typical continental breakfast with rolls and pastries, cereal, yoghurt, coffee/tea/juices), we headed out to find the number one tourist destination in Venice, Piazza San Marco.

Since the Vaporetto (public transport on the canals) workers were on strike, we had to go on foot. We followed many tight streets that seemed little more than alleyways and eventually came to the piazza.

Our first view of the Piazza

We were impressed with the size of the empty space, which is something of a commodity when much of the town is more or less floating. Since it was still relatively early in the morning, too many people hadn't gathered. We were hoping to make it to 9 a.m. Mass at the basilica, but we arrived a little late. We only got as far as a side chapel and listened to some of the Mass from there.

Coming out, we admired the Torre dell'Orologio, the main clock for the piazza.

A whole building just for a clock, who else would do such a thing?

Clockface with unusual items

It is interesting to note that the clock runs on a 24 hour cycle in Roman numerals and also displays the Zodiac and the phases of the moon. The clock originally was made for sailors' use as well as regular citizens. It was completed in the 15th century and legend has it the two inventors, after completing the mechanism, had their eyes gouged out to prevent them from making a duplicate. Yikes!

Then we got in line to tour the main part of the church. We had fun looking around and being silly while we waited the 15 or so minutes to get in at 9:45.

The front of San Marco

The side of San Marco

Lucy rode on my shoulders for a bit, till she said, "Daddy, why are you so wet?" That got a good laugh from all the English speakers in our vicinity. She eventually got down and danced around for a bit. Jacob did his best to look charming too.

Lucy rides high (if not dry)

Jacob smiles

I smile for photographer Jacob

Lucy in the midst of a silly dance

At the front of the line, we discovered that we couldn't take our diaper backpack into the church. Mommy took it off to the bag check building about a block away. Luckily, we were allowed to wait at the front of the line for her return. Others went in past us. I noticed that some of the women didn't meet the modesty standards for Italy (i.e., no bare knees or shoulders in church). The workers handed out inexpensive brown paper cloths that must have been about four feet square. Women were then left to their own devices to devise an appropriate cover-up. In the interests of modesty, I took no pictures of such women.

We enjoyed the church. Admittance was free, though there were charges for going to see the treasury, the upper walkway, and the Pala d'Oro, the 10th century altarpiece of stunning beauty and opulence. I guess that's how they pay for the electricity and the cover-ups. We went to the treasury, which contained many relics and reliquaries. Also, many chalices, patens,  candlesticks, and other church paraphernalia were on display. It was quite impressive. The children's energy was starting to flag, so we didn't take in the other paid parts of the tour.

The main body of the church is rich with mosaics from various periods and with various themes. Hardly an inch was left uncovered. In fact, many of the windows had been closed up to provide more space for mosaics. It was inspiring viewing. I can't remember if photography was not allowed or I just forgot to take pictures. It looked wonderful and I would recommend a visit.

Coming outside, we sought a snack to perk up the children while we took in some of the other exterior art.

17th century mosaic depicting Christians taking St. Mark's remains from Alexandria

The theft of Saint Mark's relics is an interesting story. When the Muslims were overrunning Egypt, some crafty Venetian merchants schemed to steal the relics from Alexandria. They hid the bones in a box which they covered with pork. Hence the nose-holding Arab in the mosaic, who missed his chance to keep Christian relics from falling into Venetian hands.

Also, it was a tradition for traders to bring back something to decorate the church, hence the assortment of stone used. Many statues were given, including some horses stolen from Constantinople and a sculpture called the Tetrarchs, a 4th century Egyptian statue said to depict Diocletian, Maximilian, Valerian, and Constantine.

Horses of St. Mark (copies of the originals which are inside)

The Tetrarchs, c. 4th century

By now, Jacob was out of energy, though he did ask me to take a picture of the people looking out of the Campanile (bell tower, as opposed to the clock tower).

Jacob resting on Mommy

Campanile windows

On our way back to the hotel, we saw the music museum, a statue of Niccolo Tommaseo, and another ornate church into which we did not go, San Moise Profeta.

Admission is fee, but we didn't go in

The pigeon is real!

Saint Moses the Prophet

Back at the hotel, mommy held the fort while I went for a quick tour of the nearby Jesuit Church, which will be covered in the next blog!

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