Venice at 7 a.m.

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St. Mark’s Square — by far the most popular tourist attraction in all of Venice (and a very easily accessible one, at that) is usually swarming with tourists, street artists, guided tours (the WORST to walk through), and the like. In a word, it’s packed. And it’s difficult to get any shots of the square without holding your camera high above your head — in which case, you’re already cutting out half the shot.

venice18Above: at the far end of the square, an array of chairs for the Ca’ Foscari graduation ceremony.

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Above: gondolas ready for tourists.

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Above: the entrance to Venice’s impressive belltower stands in the middle of the square.

One morning near the end of my stay, I forced myself out of bed around 6 a.m. to try and catch the square when it was (relatively) empty. Of course, to get perfectly tourist-free shots you would have to be there at sunrise, but I found that 7 a.m. sufficed — I was able to get some gorgeous photos before the onslaught of tourists, vendors, and over-bright sunlight set in. There were a few others in the square — mainly shopkeepers opening up, Venetians bringing in beverages and produce by boat, and other photographers like myself. It was a Sunday, and the far end of the square was filled with rows of chairs for the Ca’ Foscari (University of Venice) graduation — a tradition meant to emulate the American graduation ceremony style.

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Above: an arched walkway beneath the Doge’s palace.

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It’s not such a popular tourist spot for no reason, of course. St. Mark’s — the quintessential image of Venice throughout travel guides and in the minds of wanderlusting individuals everywhere — is an expansive plaza and the historic “entrance” to Venice. It is home to the former Doge’s palace (the ducal palace of Venice) and its adjoining prison (now both a museum), the bell tower of Venice, a massive library, and the Byzantine-era St. Mark’s basilica. The square is trapezoidal and lined with cafes and small shops, where tourists happily shell out 10 euros for espresso. Two stone pillars mark the lagoon-side entrance to the square, one with the winged lion — the symbol for St. Mark (the patron saint of Venice) atop it.

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Above: one of the stunning views from the edge of the square.

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In ducal Venice, executions of political dissidents and enemies would take place between the two pillars — a fact which many tourists are oblivious to. The pillars are a beautiful marking of the city, inviting the viewer into the square, but their violent history provides an interesting perspective. Some say not to walk through the pillars — it’s considered bad luck! (Other political prisoners who didn’t have the luck of being executed were sent to the ducal prison, nearly always a life imprisonment and one with barbaric prison conditions.)

venice9Above: a cafe overlooks the Venetian lagoon.

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Above: a view from one of the many arches that surround the main square.

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Above: arch detail, looking up.

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Above: nearby shop stands are shuttered, waiting for the day to begin.

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Above: details in the archway ceilings.

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You can also easily catch a gondola from the stop at the square — although I wouldn’t recommend it. Gondolas, contrary to popular belief, are not a mode of transportation (at least nowadays), and are only offered as “rides.” It can be a fun experience, but it will set you back a good 90 euros (!!!) and most gondoliers are less than pleasant (at least they are when you’re kayaking in “their” canals, which was my first encounter).

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Above: a boat delivers supplies to a local hotel.

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Above: more supplies stacked under a Venetian archway.

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Anyway, despite the effort of getting up early on a Sunday, it was worth it if not just to absorb the atmosphere of the square without its usual mob of tourists. Even if you’re not after a great photography shot, if you’re ever in Venice, take the time to do this one morning! It’s hard to see it during the day with so many loud/annoying people around, but experiencing a placid St. Mark’s without the crowds really allows you to soak in all its Venetian glory — weathered architectural, stunning views, and all. And, of course, you’re reminded why Venice is such a magical city in the first place, and why it has captured the imaginations of millions.

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venice4Above: roses abound — vendors sell them throughout the day for a euro.

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Above: pigeons are everywhere!

{Credit: the images in this post were taken by me. Please ask permission before use — thank you!}

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14 thoughts on “Venice at 7 a.m.

  1. I have been to Venice many times but my last visit was by far the best. We stayed in Giordani which is 3 stops from San Marco and is away from the crowds. Great photos. Nice to see Venice minus the millions of people and pigeons

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