Posted Apr 18, 2012
The floating city of Venice, Italy, features stone buildings and palaces that almost defy gravity as they ebb and flow with the moving waters. This charming city is home to a unique and cosmopolitan lifestyle that recalls old-time Italian traditions. Made up of 117 small islands, Venice is linked by a series of small canals, which all together make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Those lucky enough to take a European shore excursion to Venice have the chance to enjoy couture Italian life while paying homage to classic history. Cars are banned in the city, and transportation is instead achieved by boat rides or ferry services.
Perhaps the most glorious attractions in Venice are the numerous architectural wonders that are considered some of the greatest Italian masterpieces, including St. Mark's Basilica and Doge's Palace. These breathtaking structures boast histories dating back for centuries, yet have managed to retain much of their original mosaic work and stone foundations.
The Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark's Square, is regarded as one of the most magnificent plazas of its kind. Street performers and musicians fill the streets with laughter, cheer and songs. Dating back to the 9th century, the area was originally a small entrance to the basilica, but was soon expanded in 1177. As visitors on Mediterranean cruises make their way to the breathtaking St. Mark's Basilica, they may want to stop and take a photo with the iconic doves that frequent the area for the chance to grab a scrap of bread.
For centuries, Venice was Europe's main gateway to Asia and the Orient, and its architecture reflects unique influences from the Byzantine era. With five mosque-like domes and a checkered facade, St. Mark's Basilica boasts an exterior similar to many buildings found in Turkey. Its interior is just as elaborate and features stunning mosaics dating back nearly 1,000 years. While on an Italy cruise, passengers will have the chance to get a closer look at the ceiling mosaics in the Galleria, which is the only way to access the outdoor Loggia dei Cavalli. This small balcony provides a spectacular view of the entire piazza, and has been called "the most beautiful salon in the world" by Napoleon.
Visitors to the basilica should dress conservatively, as the cathedral's guards will not allow anyone with shorts, sleeveless shirts, or skirts above the knees to enter the building.
As one of the most important and famous symbols of Venetian culture, Doge's Palace is a majestic and grand 14th century structure that housed the city's seat of power and judicial court for centuries. Built like a castle, the Doge is a stunning example of Gothic architecture with an elaborate facade and towering pipettes. This pink-and-white marble structure sits directly on top of the water, allowing uninterrupted views of the Venetian scenery for those on European cruise vacations. Each room inside the palace is more exquisite than the next, including the massive Hall of the Four Doors (Sala delle Quattro Porte). With a ceiling designed by Venetian painter Tintoretto, the room boasts Sistine Chapel-like grandeur and ornateness.
Completing this architectural tour of Venice, cruise passengers will have to take a deep breath to prepare for the incredible San Giorgio Church. This 16th-century monastery is architect Andrea Palladio's masterpiece and like Doge's Palace, features two of Tintoretto's most spectacular paintings including The Last Supper and The Gathering of the Manna.