Sights in the San Marco district of Venice

The sestiere or San Marco district in Venice is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city and therefore in the world. Here was the economic, political and religious power center of the Venetian Republic. For hundreds of years, ships carrying spices, fabrics and other luxury goods from the East moored here. The beautiful palaces and churches still point to the prosperity of the time. In addition to the famous San Marco Basilica and the Palazzo Ducale, the district offers many gems of art and architecture. Think of the beautiful churches, such as San Moisè, San Salvatore and Santo Stefano, the magnificent Rialto Bridge or the world-famous Museo Correr, of which the Museo Archeologico is part.

Table of contents

  • Rialto Bridge: Venice’s main bridge
  • San Salvatore or San Salvador
  • MuseoCorrer
  • Museo Archeologico
  • San Moise
  • Santa Maria del Giglio or Santa Maria Zobenigo
  • Santo Stefano

A . Rialto Bridge
B . San Salvatore
C . Museo Correr
D . San Moise
E . Santa Maria del Giglio
F . Santo Stefano

Rialto Bridge: Venice’s main bridge

There are countless typical cityscapes of Venice: Il Redentore, the Palazzo Ducale, the Santa Maria della Salute … The two most famous, however, are the Campanile on St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge. This bridge connects the two main districts of Venice: San Polo and San Marco. Here is the center of the old town. There was a wooden bridge on this site as early as the twelfth century, which was destroyed and rebuilt several times. By the way: the name Rialto comes from the Venetian Rivo Alto or high bank, which indicates that here the banks of the Grand Canal are the highest and therefore the safest.
In 1524 they started to get tired of having to build a wooden bridge again and again and decided to switch to a stone bridge. However, building such a bridge is quite a feat. The ground is very boggy and therefore very soft and the bridge must be high enough so that gondolas and trading ships can pass underneath (it spans the Grand Canal, the lifeline of the city). An architectural competition was organized. Many important gentlemen took part, the most important being Sansovino, Andrea Palladio and none other than Michelangelo. The assignment went to the noble unknown Antonio da Ponte (he did not steal his surname). Construction lasted from 1588 to 1591, a fairly short time frame for a bridge of 48 meters long, 22 meters wide and 7.5 meters high. In 2015, the bridge was thoroughly renovated, the pillars of which are in poor condition. The well-known fashion brand Diesel sponsored 5 million … but also received the right to advertise on the bridge, a thorn in the side for many.
Source: Wolfgang Moroder, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

San Salvatore or San Salvador

The contrast between Santo Stefano and San Salvatore, both churches in the same district, could hardly be greater. The first is Gothic, austere, dark. The San Salvatore is open, light, cheerful and quiet. The San Salvatore (or San Salvador in Venetian) is dedicated to the Savior of the World – Jesus Christ himself. According to legend, the church originated from a vision of Saint Magnus, in which Jesus himself commanded him to build a church here. What is certain is that the first church was consecrated on this site in 1177 by Pope Alexander III. The church was thoroughly rebuilt in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and provided with a new facade. The style is clearly Renaissance. The church actually consists of ‘squares’, each with a dome. This provides a beautiful and soft light. The church was of great importance in the Middle Ages, because in 1267 it was able to obtain the remains of Saint Theodore. Before stealing the relics of Mark, he was the patron saint of the city. His column still stands fraternally next to that of Saint Mark on the Piazza San Marco.
The church has two major art treasures, both by Titian . It is about The Transfiguration of Christ and the more famous Annunciation from 1564. The master painted that work in the last years of his life. He signed it ‘Fecit fecit’, which means something like ‘Done, done’. That shows how much time and energy he put into the work. We see the Virgin Mary while the angel Gabriel (strikingly large) brings her the message that she will carry the Savior of the World. Maria turns around in surprise and fear, holding her book. In addition to these beautiful works by Titian, there is also a lot of sculpture to see. Be sure to see the Tomb Monument to Francesco Venier by master sculptor Jacopo Sansovino .
Source: Janmad, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-2.5)


Since 1922, the Museo Correr has been located in the so-called ‘Napoleonic wing’ on Piazza San Marco. When you come out of the basilica, you look straight at the entrance to the museum. This wing connects the so-called Old and New Procurations. These buildings housed the offices and apartments of the leading class of the Republic. During the short time he was in charge of Venice, Napoleon decided that a palace should be built for him. That became the Napoleonic wing, where he ultimately never stayed. The facade is also decorated with fourteen statues of the ancient Roman emperors. There is a big gap in the middle. Napoleon Bonaparte wanted to have himself depicted there. Ultimately, he too was an emperor…
The museum is named after Teodore Correr, who died in 1830. He was an important art collector who left his collection to the city after his death. Spread over the first floor of the museum there are all kinds of objects related to life in Venice. The old maps of the city are very beautiful. The second floor is really worth the effort (and the money, the entrance fee in combination with the Palazzo Ducale amounts to 20 euros in 2016). There you will find the Pinacoteca . Here you can find top works by artists from Venice, Italy and all over Europe. Big names are Veneziano, the Bellini family, Carpaccio (the famous meat dish was named after him) and El Greco. The Flemish primitives are also strongly represented. There is work by Hugo van der Goes (a beautiful Crucifixion ) and Dirk Bouts. Pieter Breughel (the Younger) also provided a work. The work The Dead Christ by Antonello da Messina (1476) is very special . This artist was one of the first to really master oil painting (like the Flemish Primitives). He therefore had a great influence on his contemporaries. The work is now damaged, making it look very much like an impressionist work from the nineteenth century.
Source: Giovanni Dall’Orto, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-1.0)

Museo Archeologico

The Museo Archeologico can only be visited via the Museo Correr. So you must purchase a ticket for both museums. This ticket also gives access to the main halls of the Biblioteca Marciana. The museum’s collection comes from the estate of the Grimani family. They fulfilled an important function in the government of the Republic and the Church. In the sixteenth century the family collected many artefacts and statues from Greek and Roman antiquity. The collection is not very large, but does offer some valuable statues and ancient Egyptian sarcophagi.
Be sure to check out the Google Art Project on the website of the Museo Correr (of which this museum is a part). In collaboration with Google, the museum put a number of masterpieces online. You can view the paintings in the smallest detail, without being disturbed by the thousands of other tourists.

San Moise

Venice has two churches dedicated to a special saint: San Zaccaria, dedicated to Saint Zaccarias, the father of John the Baptist and therefore Elisabeth’s husband, and San Moisè. The San Moisè is very unique because it is dedicated to a ‘saint’ from the Old Testament, namely Moses. Traditionally, persons from the OT are not given the prefix ‘Saint’.
Source: Wolfgang Moroder, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)What do you do when your city prohibits erecting statues of private individuals in public places and you still want to make yourself and your family stand out? Simple: you finance a church and make the facade a tribute to your family. That’s what the Fini family did. In the seventeenth century she supported the renovation of the much older San Moisè by Alessandro Tremignon. In return, he placed several references to the family on the facade. For example, an obelisk with a statue of Vincenzo Fini can be seen above the central entrance door (and therefore the most important place). He was supervisor of St. Mark’s Basilica during the renovation of the church. On the left and right, two other family members received their tributes. The entire facade is a typical example of High Baroque, which even goes somewhat in the direction of Rococo and exaggerated exuberance. In the church you can view some smaller and less important works by Tintoretto, among others. What is striking is the large altarpiece by Heinrich Meyring (nickname Enrico Marengo). This German sculptor and painter made a combination of painting and sculpture. He depicted Moses and the gift of the Ten Commandments.
Source: Didier Descouens, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

Santa Maria del Giglio or Santa Maria Zobenigo

The San Moisè is not the only Venetian church that was used as a tribute to a wealthy family. The Santa Maria del Giglio belongs in the same box. Giglio, by the way, means ‘lily’, a reference to the flower that the angel Gabriel is said to have brought with him at the Annunciation to Mary. The church is also called Santa Maria Zobenigo by the Venetians. This is the family, from the Balkans, who financed the foundation of the church – so there is no Saint Zobenigo or anything like that. The facade of the church was clearly added later, in the year 1683. This facade honors the Barbaro family. Antonio Barbaro was an admiral in the Venice fleet during the seventeenth century. At his death he left a large sum to the church. He and his four brothers are honored with statues.
Palma Il Giovane, Veronese and Alessandro Vittoria delivered beautiful works to the church. However, it is a painting unique to Venice that lures tourists to this hidden gem: the painting Madonna with Child and the Little Saint John by Pieter-Paul Rubens . It is the only work by the Antwerp master of the Baroque in La Serenissima.

Santo Stefano

Not far from the church of San Maurizio is Santo Stefano, dedicated to Saint Stephen. Stephen was one of the followers of Jesus Christ and the first martyr. He was stoned by an angry mob, but continued to pray for his persecutors. One of those persecutors was Saul, who later changed his name to Paul and spread the Word throughout the then known world. In 1294, the mendicants of the Augustinian Order started building a church on this site. Construction lasted until well into the fourteenth century. The very sober facade (only the entrance portal is decorated) was made of brick. Due to all kinds of issues about fundamental rights, the facade of the church is not facing the square, but to one side. That produces a strange view. Due to these construction problems, the monks were also forced to build over the canal. It is therefore literally possible to sail under (part of) the church. Of course, the leaning bell tower or campanile is also immediately noticeable.
Source: Didier Descouens, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-4.0)The interior of the church is defined by the striking ceiling in the shape of an inverted ship’s keel. The builders chose a beautiful red and white decoration for the floor and walls. Be sure to notice the beautiful main altar of Girolamo Campagna. The real art treasures are in the sacristy. Unfortunately, you have to pay a small fee for admission, but it is certainly worth it. The most important works are a Crucifixion by Paolo Veneziano and The Last Supper by Tintoretto (his works can still be seen). Tintoretto painted a very special Last Supper. Just look for Judas Iscariot. He is indeed present, but can only be seen on his back. So he is already outside the actual event – a foreshadowing of his evil role later that evening. Please note: the church is only open until (approximately) four o’clock.

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