Venice See And Do
Piazza San Marco
Tel: 39 041 270 8311
Entering St. Mark's Square from its western end and suddenly confronting this glittering, magnificent Byzantine cathedral has been the oh-wow moment for countless Venice visitors. But the 11th-century exterior, with its soaring domes, spires, and statuary, is only the beginning. Inside the basilica, one and a half square miles of dazzling, painstakingly assembled mosaics cover the interior walls and ceilings. And myriad other treasures testify to the Venetians' love of the ornate—and also to looting. The spectacular, gem-encrusted Pala d'Oro altarpiece is one of the few artifacts inside that weren't filched from conquered lands; the original bronze Horses of San Marco, on display inside (the ones currently adorning the cathedral's facade are replicas), were stolen from Constantinople's Hippodrome in 1204. In the crush of visitors, it's easy to lose sight of the basilica's real function—but if you drop by for 7 a.m. Mass, you'll see the early-morning light streaming onto the mosaics, and hear the prayers of a congregation that still thinks of this monument as its parish church.
Basilica and Museo open daily 9:45–5, April–Sept; 9:45–4:45, Oct–March. Pala d'Oro and Treasury museum open as above, except Sun 2–5, April–Sept; 1–5, Oct–March.
When the Dominicans and Franciscans arrived in Venice at the dawn of the Renaissance, they enticed parishioners by filling their churches with art. The works in some of these churches rival the exhibits in major art museums. The Dominicans' immense church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, for example, was begun in 1246: a polyptych by Giovanni Bellini, magnificent ceiling paintings by Paolo Veronese, and works by Titian and Lorenzo Lotto were all commissioned as adornment. The Franciscans fought back in the 1330s with Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (generally known as I Frari). This church definitely has the artistic edge, starting with Titian's extraordinary Assumption, with the Virgin Mary soaring heavenward above the high altar in a swirl of sumptuous hues. Titian's gracious Madonna di Ca' Pesaro (pictured) dominates the left aisle, while the Madonna and Child in the sacristy is arguably one of Giovanni Bellini's finest works.
SANTI GIOVANNI E PAOLO
Castello, Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo
Tel: 39 041 523 5913
Open Mon–Sat 7:30–12:30 and 3:30–7, Sun 3–6
SANTA MARIA GLORIOSA DEI FRARI
San Polo, Campo dei Frari
Tel: 39 041 522 2637
Open Mon–Sat 9–6, Sun 1–6
Campo della Carità
Tel: 39 041 522 2247
Since 2005, this repository for centuries of stunning Venetian art has also been an obstacle course of scaffolding and builders' clutter. Ongoing renovations mean that some rooms, floors, and even outbuildings have been off-limits to visitors. Still, the viewable collection of lagoon-city masters, including Paolo Veneziano, Mantegna, Giorgione, Titian, and Tintoretto, doesn't disappoint. And when the Grandi Gallerie dell'Accademia—as the final restored galleries will be called—open in their entirety in late 2007, they will have been worth the wait. The exhibition space will have doubled to almost 40,000 square feet, which means there will be room to display 650 works instead of the current 400. In the meantime, look for gorgeous narrative works like Bellini and Carpaccio's Miracle of the Relic of the True Cross on the Rialto Bridge, and Carpaccio's Life of Saint Ursula; both are exquisitely detailed depictions of 15th-century Venice.
Open Mon 8:15–2, Tues–Sun 8:15–7:15
Hopelessly clichéd but utterly romantic, a gondola ride is something every visitor to Venice should do once. The experience doesn't come cheap (see "Getting Around" in the Fact Sheet for approximate costs), so make it memorable by telling your gondolier to avoid the chaotic, noisy Grand Canal in favor of narrower back routes. You'll get to navigate Venice as locals have done for centuries: by water.
Punctuating the lagoons around Venice are a few islets that are well worth visiting—and they can all be reached by vaporetto. Torcello was a city long before Venice itself (though it's hard to imagine this empty, atmospheric marsh had a 14th-century population of 20,000). All that remains now, apart from a handful of houses, is the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, home to some spectacular 11th- and 12th-century mosaics, and a campanile offering peerless views over the northern lagoon.
Burano (pictured) was once an island of lace-makers. Though only a few artisans keep the craft alive today, it's remembered in the Museo del Merletto in the main piazza, Galuppi (39-041-730-034). The most striking thing about Burano is its brightly painted houses; locals claim the tradition began so that fishermen could spot their homes easily (although most of Burano's dwellings aren't visible from the lagoon).
Glassblowing is the famous specialty on bustling Murano, where all the city's furnaces were transferred in the 13th century to curb outbreaks of fire. Among the factory-made glass tack and the lines of tourists taking showroom tours, there are some true glass artists still working their molten-sand miracles here. There's also a stunningly beautiful painting by Giovanni Bellini in the church of San Pietro Martire, and a fascinating glimpse into the world of glassblowing in the Museo dell'Arte Vetrario (39-041-739-586).
The Venetian contemporary-art empire of French luxury-goods magnate François Pinault now covers the Grand Canal–facing Palazzo Grassi and the superbly restored 15th-century Punta della Dogana customs warehouses at the tip of Dorsoduro, across the lagoon from St. Mark's Square. Once an exhibition space owned by car manufacturer Fiat, 18th-century Palazzo Grassi was taken over by Pinault in 2005 and refurbished by architect Tadao Ando to stage major shows of contemporary art—most of it drawn from Pinault's own collection. Ando was also behind the makeover of the Punta della Dogana space, which opened in 2009. Critics complain that neither venue is being used—as initially promised—for shows of anything but Pinault's possessions, but most contemporary-art fans can find something to love in the selections from this mighty repository that go on show at the two venues. And the Punta in particular is worth a visit as a fascinating piece of architecture in its own right.
Palazzo Grassi open Wednesdays through Mondays 10 am to 7 pm during exhibitions only. Punta della Dogana open Wednesdays through Mondays 10 am to 7 pm during exhibitions only.
Tel: 39 041 5200 345
One of the most important stately homes in Venice was finally opened to the public at the end of 2008, after a huge restoration project that felt like it would never end. Pay a visit before the word gets out, as this imposing Renaissance palace near Campo Santa Maria Formosa—which belonged to a 16th-century Patriarch of Aquileia, Cardinal Grimani—is for the time being a deliciously exclusive and uncrowded place to while away an hour or so. Grimani was a cultured man whose vast collection of classical statuary formed the nucleus of Venice's Museo Archeologico. The obligatory guided tour leads you through a series of lofty rooms, some with delightful decorative plaster moldings, others with spectacular ceiling frescoes of bird-filled vegetation by landscape painter Camillo Mantovano; with hardly any furniture to impede your sight lines, this is the Venetian palazzo in all its untrammeled splendor. The only downside is that for the time being, at least, tours are in Italian only; they depart at 9:30 am, 11:30 am, and 1:30 pm Tuesdays through Sundays, cost about $12, and need to be booked in advance (this part you can do in English).
Palazzo Venier dei Leoni
Tel: 39 041 240 5411
When poor little rich girl Peggy Guggenheim's personal art collection was turned down by London's Tate Gallery in 1949, she brought it to Venice. It was a lucky windfall for the city. Guggenheim moved herself and her 20th-century collection—much of it produced by the men she collected, including Roland Penrose, Yves Tanguy, and Max Ernst—into the delightful Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal. The collection, which grew to incorporate works by Dalí, Klee, Picasso, Mondrian, Duchamp, de Kooning, Pollock, and Man Ray, among others, is now a must-see for modern-art buffs.
Open Wednesdays through Mondays 10 am to 6 pm.
When Napoleon and his army descended on Venice in 1797, the French general described this immense open public space—almost 40,000 square feet—as "the drawing room of Europe." He then set about making it his own, by commissioning a statue of himself to be erected in the square. The Museo Correr, in the southwest corner of the square, now houses remnants of Napoleon's short-lived reign (including his statue), along with a marvelous collection of historic globes, weapons, and works of art by Tintoretto, Vittore Carpaccio, and Antonello da Messina. Paying the entry fee here gives you access to other attractions around the piazza, like the Museo Archeologico and Biblioteca Marciana (St. Mark's Library), with its collection of historic tomes. You'll also be able to visit the Doge's Palace, the hulking Gothic structure that was the nerve center of the Venetian Republic; take the Itinerari segreti guided tour to see the difference between the frescoed, gilded public rooms and the spartan offices where the real business was done. One of the piazza's two towers, the Campanile, is, at 325 feet, the tallest structure in Venice; climb to the top for a breathtaking view over the city. The 15th-century Torre dell'Orologio (clock tower) was unveiled in late 2006 after a seemingly interminable restoration, and now visitors can finally climb up and see the inner workings of the clock from inside and take in the view of the piazza from the roof terrace.
Torre dell'Orologio: Open for guided visits only; English tours Mondays through Wednesdays at 10 and 11 am and 1 pm; Thursdays through Sundays at 1, 2, and 3 pm. Call ahead to reserve.
Calle dei Furlani
Tel: 39 041 522 8828
One of the most charming—and unsung—Venice attractions is the Scuola di San Giorgio. Scuole (schools) were charitable institutions, set up by trades or communities between the 13th and late 19th centuries to provide dowries and educations for poor children; as these organizations grew richer, they displayed their wealthy benevolence with impressive meeting places (the Tintorettos in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco are one example). The Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni (schiavoni are Slavs, of which there were many in Venice) got Vittore Carpaccio to daub their meeting-house walls with scenes from the lives of Slavic saints: Jerome, George, and Tryphone.
Open Tues–Sat 9:30–12:30 and 3:30–6:30, Sun 9:30–12:30, April–Oct; Tues–Sat 10–12:30 and 3–6, Sun 10–12:30, Nov–March
1983 Campo San Fantin
Tel: 39 041 786511
Still looking magnificent after its lengthy post-fire restoration, La Fenice opera house is a small gem of super-ornate gilt and curlicues. The theater has stood here in more or less the same form since 1792, burning down twice since then, most recently in 1996. There is a year-round program of operas, concerts, chamber music, ballets, and recitals. Though La Fenice rarely puts on performances of particularly challenging works, preferring to stage popular favorites to ensure high ticket sales, productions are generally world-class, with top international conductors appearing regularly on the podium. If classical music isn't your thing—or the ticket price tag is too high—you can visit the theater on a guided tour. Watch out, too, for the occasional free concert.—Lee Marshall
Jacopo Robusti (c. 1518–94)—better known as Tintoretto—spent most of his artistic life with a major chip on his shoulder. Until his contemporary Titian died of plague when Tintoretto was 58, he had to content himself with being labeled Venice's second-best painter. This might partially explain the sheer "look-at-me" acreage of paint he applied (with help from his workshop of two sons and a daughter) around his home city. But whatever his creative motivations, there's no denying the drama and dynamism of Tintoretto's works. Swirling motion and a striking use of color infuse his vast canvases, like The Triumph of Venice and Paradiso, in the Doge's Palace; The Last Judgment and The Israelites at Mount Sinai, in the Cannaregio church of the Madonna dell'Orto; and his masterpiece, the cycle that adorns the upper floor of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco (and that took him 24 years to complete). Second best? You be the judge.
Campo Madonna dell'Orto
Tel: 39 041 275 0642
Open Mon–Sat 10–5
SCUOLA GRANDE DI SAN ROCCO
3054 San Polo
Campo San Rocco
Tel: 39 041 523 4864
Open daily 9–5:30, April–Oct; 10–5 Nov–March
42 calle dello Squero
Tel: 39 041 5226626
The stunning makeover by architectect Renzo Piano is reason enough to take a look at this former salt warehouse overlooking the Giudecca canal, but lovers of contemporary art may find shows to pique their curiosity, too. Piano's greatest innovation here is a series of tracks and pulleys that allow the immense canvases of 20th-century Italian artist Emilio Vedova to be shown, 10 at a time. The "procession" of these works takes about 20 minutes, followed by a 10-minute break before the next selection starts its journey. The beautifully lit Foundation space has also exhibited works by Anselm Kiefer and Louise Bourgois since its inauguration in 2009.
Opening hours vary according to exhibition.