St Mark’s Square - History and Facts | History Hit

St Mark’s Square

Teet Ottin

05 Oct 2022
Image Credit: Ingus Kruklitis /

About St Mark’s Square

St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), surrounded by numerous magnificent historic buildings, is the beautiful principal public square of Venice. Famously Napoleon is said to a have described the square as ‘the finest drawing room in Europe‘.

History of St Mark’s Square

The now famous square was first established in the 9th century, though it would not reach its current size until three centuries later in 1177. The main driving force behind the extension was Doge Sebastiano Ziani (1172–1178) who organised great construction projects throughout the city of Venice, including the original Doge’s Palace (now the site of the current Doge’s Palace.

The most prominent building facing the square is the Byzantine Saint Mark’s Basilica, originally founded in 828 AD. One of the most distinct features of this stunning cathedral is its three-part façade with ornate theological carvings.

Near the Basilica is the late-15th century elaborately decorated St Mark’s Clocktower. The northern and southern wings of St Mark’s Square are comprised of two historic buildings – the Old Procurators’ Offices and the New Procurators’ Offices. The most towering feature of the square is St Mark’s Campanile, a watchtower originally built in the 12th century, extended in the 16th, and rebuilt following its collapse in the early 20th century. Right next to it is the mid-15th century Biblioteca Marciana (the Library of Saint Mark).

The square is also home to the columns of San Todaro and San Marco. The latter has the famous Lion of Venice statue on top of it, depicting the Lion of Saint Mark. The statue originates from Roman times in the 3rd century AD. The second column has a sculpture of Theodore Tiron, an ancient warrior saint, mounted on it.

St Mark’s Square today

St Mark’s Square remains one of the most visited places in all of Venice, with many of the city’s most memorable landmarks surrounding it. There are cafes and restaurants dotted along the sides of the public square, including Caffè Florian – the oldest, originating from the 18th century. The square has also become famous for the numerous pigeons who have become a permanent fixture.

Because of its low elevation, the public square gets flooded from time to time, with one of the most severe occurrences being the 1966 Venice flood. More recently, in November 2019 Venice suffered its worst flooding since 1966, when the tide rose to 187cm, submerging over 80% of the city. Travellers should be aware of this when visiting the city between autumn and spring.

Getting to St Mark’s Square

The square is located on the southern side of the San Marco district. The 98.6 metre high St Mark’s Campanile makes it hard to miss the square when wandering around the region. Almost every boat arriving in Venice stops close by, though Gondolas can be quite pricey.

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