St. Mark's Square is the heart of Venice, and undoubtedly the site of the most popular tourist attractions, including the grand St. Mark's Basilica and Doge's Palace, where the Doge lived during the glorious days of the Venetian Republic. We were lucky to stay only one street away from this area, as our hotel was tucked into one of the alleyways that runs parallel to the square.
The Basilica is beautiful, even when under extensive renovation. The line at this time of year, in early March, wasn't bad – we waited about 10 minutes to get in. The main part of the building is free but there are some exhibits and a museum that you have to pay a few euros to get into. It’s a nice basilica – but not super memorable, especially since I’ve seen so many in Rome.
Venice was an independent republic for about a millennia. The Doge was the ruler of the republic, and resided in a beautiful palace known as Doge's Palace. Today, it is a popular museum that showcases the history and art of the Venetian Republic. Below is the central courtyard of the palace.
There is a general admission fee to tour the rooms of the palace, but we decided to take a guided tour for a few extra euros, in order to get a behind the scenes look. The main part of the Palace reminded me a bit of the Vatican Museums – lots of preserved rooms with historical importance, focused on the justice and administration of the Republic of Venice. There is impressive artwork, archival features, and you can also tour the prisons across the Bridge of Sighs, where the enemies of the Republic were kept. The regular ticket is 16 euros, which includes the other museums in St. Mark's Square.
We did the Secret Itineraries Tour, 20 euros, which took us behind the scenes into the older prisons, an interrogation room, the roof of the palace, and some of the administrative offices. This was an informative 1.25 hour tour, and I enjoyed learning about the more in-depth history of the Venetian Republic and the Palace from the guide.
On the tour, our small group got to escape from the larger tourist crowds, and see some interesting chambers and displays behind the main rooms of the Palace, like the weapon collection in the attic and even a room that was used for interrogation and torture.
Venice has such a fascinating history and there are so many books and films written about its mysterious and political intrigues. I'm really glad I got to learn about this aspect of the city while I was there. Though expensive, Venice was one of the my favorite places in Europe, and it was such a memorable experience. I hope to go back someday!