The "Sitting Room" of the Venetians’, one of the symbols of the Republic of Venice and one of the places most dear to the population.
It consists of three areas:
- the Piazza itself: the area enclosed by the Procuratie Vecchie, the Procuratie Nuove and the Procuratie Nuovissime, St Mark’s Basilica and the soaring Campanile;
- the Piazzetta San Marco: the monumental entrance to the St Marks area for those coming from the sea through the two famous columns of Saint Mark and San Theodore, up to Doge’s Palace and the Biblioteca Marciana;
- the Piazzetta dei Leoncini: the area next to the Basilica, in front of the Patriarchal Palace and to the left of the Clock Tower.
In the 11th century, St Mark’s Square was much smaller than the present and was a brolo, a grassy field, with the Basilica separated from the Doge's Palace by a rio named Batario. In the following century the canal was buried at the behest of Doge Sebastiano Ziani and the current Piazzetta San Marco was built. The brick flooring was first laid in 1267 and then paved in 1392 following the decision of the Doge Antonio Venier, alternating the bricks with strips of white marble. It underwent numerous interventions until the last in 1893, which left it as it can be seen today.
The Piazza is 175.5 meters long and 82 wide in front of the Basilica, while the width is reduced to 57 meters in front of the Napoleonic Wing; the shape resembles that of a trapezoid.
In the past, Piazzetta San Marco was the gateway to the city as you could access the two centers of power from the lagoon: the Doge’s Palace, the seat of political power and St Mark’s Basilica, where instead the religious and ecclesiastical power could be found. In the right corner of the Basilica is the Torre dei Bandi, where the new regulations, final sentences and any other official communications were read to the public.
Nearby you can find the two pillars from Acre depicting acanthus leaves, peacocks tails and vine shoots, brought to the city by Lorenzo Tiepolo in 1256. He had stolen these from the city of Acre (now Lebanon). The two columns were used as a warning to the world, to demonstrate the political and military power of the Republic of Venice.
Still of Middle Eastern origin, leaning on the right corner of the Basilica, are the Tetrarchs: the ‘four Moors’ in red Egyptian porphyry from Constantinople, that seem to symbolize the brotherly embrace between Venice and Byzantium, a city conquered by the military of the lagoon city but to which the Serenissima had always felt culturally united.
The Piazzetta dei Leoncini takes its name from the presence of two crouched lions in red Verona marble, sculpted by Giovanni Bonazza in 1722; the area is dedicated to Pope John XXIII, as recalled by a bronze plaque at number 315. In the center of the little square is a wellhead placed on container used to collect rainwater, made by Andrea Tirali, and a small fountain.