Venice – San Marco – a coffee and a stroll around Piazza San Marco

Piazza San Marco, located in the sestiere (city quarter) of San Marco, is one of the world’s most famous squares. Known locally as “la Piazza” and more poetically as “the drawing room of Europe”, it’s the heart of the city and an essential experience for any visitor. My map here.

This is the view looking west from the balcony of the Basilica di San Marco, St. Mark’s cathedral, which I have given its own post. The porticoed buildings running around the square are known as the Procuratie, and were built to provide rental income for the cathedral.

From the same viewpoint looking south is Piazzette San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale, the Doge’s Palace, which I have also given a dedicated post. This offshoot square was the access point for those coming from the sea.

This post describes a walk around the square and porticoes.

Most people enter the square via the Torre dell’Orologio which also serves as a gate to the Merceria, historically the city’s main shopping street. Built in 1496, the clock displays the time, the phase of the moon, and the current sign of the Zodiac. Information on tours available from torreorologio.visitmuve.it.

Turning right and walking down the north side of the square you soon come to Caffè Lavena at 133/134 Piazza San Marco, www.lavena.it, which is the smallest of the famous cafes around the square.

Founded in 1750, Wagner and Liszt were once patrons.

Like most cafes in Italy, it’s cheaper to drink your coffee at the bar rather than sitting at a table which is extortionate wherever you go in this square.

A little further on you come to Caffè Quadri, another famous historical cafe at 121 Piazza San Marco, www.alajmo.it, but I left it for next time. I’d also like to try the Quadri restaurant on the first floor.

A few doors down again you come to the Olivetti Exhibition Centre at 101 Piazza San Marco.

The shop was designed as a typewriter showroom by the famous modernist architect Carlo Scarpa, and is considered an important example of 20th century architecture. Entrance was €5 in 2020 www.fondoambiente.it.

The west side of the square is taken up by the Museo Correr, at 52 Piazza San Marco, correr.visitmuve.it. Originally built by Napoleon, it’s crammed with Venetian art and antiques.

As you turn the corner to the south side of the square, you’ll see the beautiful old shopfront of Martinuzzi, a homewares store at 67 Piazza San Marco.

Caffè Florian at 57 Piazza San Marco, www.caffeflorian.com is certainly the oldest cafe in Italy (since 1720) and debatedly the oldest in the world.

Cafe Procope in Paris (opened in 1686, by a Sicilian) is older but the business has not been in “in continuous operation”, unlike Florian.

Goethe, Byron, Goethe, Rousseau, Dickens and Casanova have all been customers here.

Of the five rooms, the Sala del Senato (Senate Hall), with its florid decoration by Giacomo Casa (dating from 1858), is considered the most artistically important.

La Sala delle Stagione, the Hall of the Seasons, with feminine figures depicting each of the seasons, was added in 1891.

If you sit outside expect to pay 11€ for a capuccino, plus another 6€ if live music is playing.

Again, standing at the bar is much cheaper.

I paid 3€ for my espresso (usually 1€), but it was the cheapest item on the very extensive menu.

At the end of the porticoes you come to the Campanile di San Marco, the cathedral bell tower.

If you don’t mind queuing, you can take a lift to the top floor for one of the best views of Venice. See www.basilicasanmarco.it for more info.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve given the cathedral and the ducal palace next door their own posts.

Just to the left of the cathedral, back at the Torre dell’Orologio, is Piazzetta dei Leoncini, another extension to the main square.

The square is named after the two red marble statues of lions that inhabit it.

There’s also another lovely old shopfront here.

That’s the square, now for the cathedral…

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