Piazza San Marco is the main public square in the town of Venice, which is generally known as Piazza. All the other squares in the town, apart from Piazzeta and Piazzale Roma are called campi. Piazzetta is an extension of the Piazza towards the lagoon at the southeast part of Venice. The two areas make up the social, religious and cultural centre of Venice.
A characterisation of Piazza San Marco which is usually attributed by Napoleon is that it is the “drawing room of Europe”. It is one of the few large urban areas in Europe, where human voices override the sound of the motorised traffic.
Life in Venice has revolved around this square, from the days that it was a market as well as the centre of life and religious life. It is considered to be one of the greatest squares in the world and definitely the main attraction in Venice.
Towards the east of the square is the great San Marco Basilica. The Piazzeta dei Leoncini is an open are at the north side of the church, named from the two marble lions (that were given by the Doge Alvize Mocenigo in 1722).Further on is the Clock Tower (Torre dell’Orologio), which was completed in 1499 over a high entrance arch where the well-known street of Merceria (the main road in the town) leads to the commercial and economic centre of Rialto.
To the left is a large arcade along the length of the north side of the Piazza, with the buildings on this side known as Procuratie Vecchie. The buildings are made up of the old procuracies, former houses and offices of the Saint Marco commissioners and senior state officials during the republic of Venice, and were built during the 16th century.The arcade is surrounded by shops and restaurants on the ground floor with offices above. The restaurants include the famous Café Quadri which had Austrian customers when Venice was ruled by Austria during the 19th century, while the Venetians preferred Café Florian from the other side of the Piazza. To the left, the arcade continues along the length of the west side of the Piazza, which was rebuilt by Napoleon during 1810 known as Napoleonic Wing.
Behind the shops, is an official staircase which led to a royal palace, however today it is the entrance of the Correr Museum. Turning to the left again, the arcade continues to the south part of the Piazza. The buildings on this side are known as Procuratie Nuove which were designed during the mid-16th century and were completed in 1640. The ground floor has shops and the Café Florian, a famous café which opened in 1720 by Floriano Francesconi and had Venetian customers, when the Austrians were at Café Quadri.The higher levels were intended as a Palace for Napoleon’s stepson Eugene de Beauharnais, prince of Venice.
Opposite the end of the arcade is the Saint Mark’s Campanile (Bell tower) which was rebuilt in 1912 after the old bell tower collapsed in 1902. The Saint Mark’s Square links the south side of the Piazza with the lagoon, with the Doge’s Palace to the east , and the Jakopo Sansovino Library which houses the Marciana Library to the west.