San Marco: the oldest and most famous Sestiere of Venice yet unfortunately also the most touristy! It is the most difficult to really know, because the surface has become so saturated with touristy things that finding the real character can be challenging. Despite this, the Sestiere is well worth persevering and, still, there are yet unknown bits to see.
Once known for its fashion, extravagant parties, wonderful Operas and beautiful people, Venice led the way in so many things, and much of this originated in San Marco.
A bit of background on San Marco:
It’s actually much bigger than we think, but this is not to say that it is the largest in terms of physical distance. The sheer quantity of extraordinary places that come within this Sestiere’s boundaries often comes as a surprise. This is perhaps because when we first think of San Marco itself, two main places come to mind, the Piazza and the Basilica, which cast the rest into a slight shadow. Whatever the reason, this brief introduction to the famous Sestiere is going to assume certain previous knowledge from your part so it can focus on the lesser known hidden facts.
Partly located in what we is considered “the heart” of Venice, San Marco, stretches from the Accademia Bridge all the way up to Rialto and outwards towards Castello. It is sculpted by the curve of the Grand Canal as two sides meet like a soft triangle point. The Bacino di San Marco would have been the first sight that ships arriving after months at sea would have seen. The façades that looked onto the water were grand even for Venetian standards. Something of this mentality has remained even today (although more often than not people arrive by train or plane). As you walk through San Marco, you will find that there is not really a ‘back alley’ atmosphere.Its layout is structured more with wider streets that feel as if they were meant to promenade through and ‘to be seen’ in.
Fashion of Venice …
The Venetians had their own fashion, mastering elegance with a slight twist that came about through an eye for practicality. However, you may also have noticed that there are not as many shops for clothes as one might expect. If you have been disappointed by this so far, rest assured you will find the highest concentration of international shops in the San Marco area as well as a strong contingency of Artisanal Ateliers. (Follow this link to find our selected list of local artisans).
While I am determined to dedicate a whole other article to this topic, it is impossible to discuss San Marco without also mentioning LA FENICE. Having witnessed some of the most historic musical events, it continues to awe, shock and inspire those who attend the performances. Through its schedule of events, the theater attempts to bridge the difficult gap between traditional and contemporary music.
Two small tips:
A small retreat in San Marco …
There’s a small bit of green hidden in plain sight. Between Piazza San Marco and the traditional Salt Stores lies the Old Royal Gardens that once belonged to Napoleons Palaces. They are often overlooked because it is the last thing you would expect, but it offers a welcome break to sit and recharge. The entrance looks out over the water and there is remarkable difference in the sense of a calm within the park in comparison to the stream of people just two steps away.
Taking your time .. .
While I said I would skim over Piazza San Marco and the Basilica, I think there is one point worth mentioning. If at all possible, walk through the Piazza at 7 am (or earlier if you can manage it) or at 11 pm. At these times, there are very few people and you can appreciate the true marvel of what was achieved. Occasionally, I find myself walking home this way or taking extravagant routes to make this happen. Every single time I am forced to stop, or at least slow down. This is the way in which San Marco should be seen.
~ To Eat in San Marco ~
(Lunch / Dinner)
~ A small bite ~
Bank transfer pastry (Pizzette)
~ To Drink ~
The Shadow Of The Lion