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7 hours plus break
Our tour begins at the epicentre of the Venetian Republic, an iconic St. Mark’s Square. One of the most breathtaking public spaces in the world, the piazza was once described by Napoleon as Europe’s drawing room - and it’s still Venice’s place to see and be seen today. Dominating everything are the endless domes and spires of immense 11th-century St. Mark’s Basilica, known as the Chiesa d’Oro, or the Church of Gold, for its shimmering mosaics both inside and out. Learn how St Mark’s owes its existence to an audacious holy theft, and how its masterful architectural fusion of Byzantine, Greek and Western traditions perfectly reflects Venice’s uniquely cosmopolitan character. Discover the fascinating history of the massive bronze horses that stand guard over the entrance, and once inside prepare to be blinded by a profusion of gold glittering from every mosaic-covered surface – including the Pala d’Oro, a golden altarpiece studded with thousands of precious stones. We won’t rush you through the basilica – it takes time to appreciate its many splendours, and if you really want to get to grips with Venice then an in-depth exploration of St. Mark’s Basilica is the perfect way to begin.
Then we’ll make our way across the square to the Doge’s Palace, whose distinctive Gothic colonnades and pink-hued marbles perfectly capture the city’s charm. Perched on a sweeping curve of Venice’s southern bank, it was from here that a succession of all-powerful Doges ruled over the maritime Republic for hundreds of years, and you can still sense the grandeur of those epic days echoing down its halls and galleries today, surrounded by masterpieces of Renaissance art by Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese. Climbing Jacopo Sansovino’s Scala d’Oro, a lavish stairway of gold, and arriving in the Doge’s private apartments above gives a fascinating insight into the luxurious lifestyle of the Renaissance Venetian court. But the Doge’s palace had a darker side too – we’ll also explore the forbidding prisons where inmates (including the notorious libertine Casanova) served their sentences in dark cells, reached by an exclusive stroll over the beautiful Bridge of Sighs - evocatively named for the groans of prisoners taking one last look at Venice’s beauty before being led away to incarceration.
We’ll begin our journey on beautiful Murano, actually a series of 7 islands linked by bridges perched in the heart of the Venetian lagoon. In the 13thcentury the glassmakers of Venice were moved en-masse to this remote spot to guard against devastating fires caused by their furnaces belching out smoke into the densely populated city, and 800 years later Murano glass is still one of the world’s most famous artisan products. During our stop on the island we’ll learn all about the special glass-blowing technique brought to Venice from the Orient by returning traders and perfected over the centuries in the island’s charming glass museum, before seeing the works of the modern-day artisans keeping the traditions alive in their nearby ateliers today. If you wish, we'll also be able to arrange a glass-blowing demonstration where you'll get to see the incredible technique that magically turns molten sand into crystal up close. Murano is also home to the oldest church in the Venetian lagoon, which we can visit on request - lavish Santa Maria e San Donato, whose 12th-century mosaic floor is a masterpiece of Byzantine art.
Back on the water, we’ll chart a northward course towards the seductive island of Burano at the northern end of the lagoon. The incredibly picturesque brightly painted houses that line Burano’s narrow cobbled streets and waterways are a photographer’s dream, and the settlement even boasts its own leaning tower in the campanile of San Martino. According to popular folklore, the tradition of Burano’s brightly coloured houses can be traced back to the island’s fishermen seeking a foolproof way to find their ways home through the dense fogs of the Venetian winter. Burano is known throughout Italy for its tradition of lace-making, the island’s main industry as far back as the Renaissance, when Leonardo da Vinci dropped by to purchase some for an altarpiece destined for Milan cathedral. Not much has changed since Leonardo’s day – these intricate masterpieces are still made entirely by hand, craft elevated to the realm of high art.
The final stop on our journey into the heart of the Venetian lagoon is also a journey back in time. The semi-deserted island of Torcello is the birthplace of Venetian civilization, where according to legend refugees fleeing Attila the Hun’s Barbarian hordes on the mainland arrived in the 7th century, and was for centuries much more powerful than its younger neighbour across the lagoon. The stagnant air of the lagoon and the increasing difficulty of navigating its waterways led to its slow and inevitable decline over the centuries, and these days it’s a sleepy place with just 13 full-time residents. But its extraordinary Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, complete with spectacular Byzantine mosaics including a truly terrifying Last Judgement, is a vivid reminder of the island’s former glory. An air of mystery hangs over this forgotten place, and on your visit you’ll also learn about the legends surrounding eerie historical sights like the Devil’s Bridge and Attila’s Chair.
Three islands, three fascinating slices of Venice’s past and present. Join us on this special journey into the Venetian lagoon, and get the full story behind the mysteries of the floating city.
Our guides are fluent in English and have a contagious passion for Rome's inspiring cultural heritage. Experts in their fields, they will immerse you in the hidden histories and intriguing lives of history's great protagonists. So much to see, so easy to miss out: with the help of our guides, visit the most absorbing sites and uncover the stories that have changed the world. Don't miss this fascinating journey!