The city's smallest district, San Marco is home to Venice's most important political and religious institutions. St Mark's Square, which tells the tale of some 15 centuries of man's artistic endeavours, is surrounded by a wealth of imposing monuments and elegant palazzi. A splendid open air drawing room, the square is the chosen venue for all the most important events held in the city: the carnival, theatrical performances, jazz concerts, and art exhibitions.

The trapezoidal shaped square is 176m long for a width of 82m on the side of the basilica and 57m on the opposite side, entirely paved in Euganean trachyte in 1893. It is enclosed on three sides by the arcaded buildings of the Procurators, subdivided in the Procuratie Vecchie to the left and the Procuraturie Nuove on the right, united by the Ala Nuovissima and the Ala Napoleonica, this latter constructed during the reign of the French emperor at the start of the 19th century. The Procurators buildings were constructed so as to house the offices and lodgings of the so-called Procuratore, the highest state office after that of Doge.

The Procuratie Vecchie, which consist in two floors, elevated above the 50 arches of the portico, were built in the 12th century. The first floor was rebuilt during the late 15th century according to the designs of the architect Mauro Codussi. Following the devastating fire of 1512, which destroyed great part of the edifices in the square, the Procuratie Vecchie were restored, initially under the supervision of Bartolomeo Bon and Guglielmo Grici and, later, by Jacopo Sansovino, who completed the reconstruction work in 1532.

Those arriving in Piazza San Marco by foot crossing over the Rialto Bridge, pass by St Mark's Clock tower, one of the locals' most loved monuments. The Venetians call the 270cm bronze statues which move to indicate the time of day the two moors, for the dark color of the bronze, similar to the color of the skin of the slaves once resident in the city. To the left, on the northern side of the Basilica, there is the Piazzetta dei Leoncini, the small square named after the pair of splendid red marble lions sculpted by Giovanni Bonazza in 1722.
In the center of the Piazzetta there is a charming fountain by the great Andrea Tirali. Overlooking the Piazzetta, there is the Palazzo Patriacale, an obligatory port of call for fans of Tintoretto, who painted his cycle depicting Life of Santa Caterina here in 1557.

For many, St Mark's Basilica is the most important building in the whole of the city. In John Ruskin's classic "Stones of Venice" he writes of the incredible impact of the church's exquisite sculptures but above all, of the delicate colors, the glass mosaic, the transparent alabaster, polished marble, and glittering gold.

From the famous Bell Tower of San Marco, a stunning view of the city can be enjoyed. The bell tower, with a height of 99meters was built in 888 and, following numerous attacks, was rebuilt in the early 16th century by Bartolomeo Sansovino, according to the designs of Giorgio Spavento. A sudden subsidence destroyed the tower, together with the Loggetta del Sansovino. At the start of the last century Venice city council financed the faithful reproduction of the bell tower.

The construction of St Mark's Basilica was initiated many years before the 4th crusade, perhaps in 978, and was completed only in 1275. The work of embellishment continued right up until the 18th century. Perhaps what most strikes the visitor about the Church, is its distinctly Eastern appearance: like a golden temple straight out of one of the pages of The Arabian Nights. The basilica was, in fact, designed and constructed using the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople as its model.

Overlooking the Piazza there is the Doge's Palace, a gothic masterpiece which, between 697 and 1797 was home to some 120 doges. In 1600 the New Prisons were added, connected to the Palace by the Bridge of Sighs, the famous last passage for prisoners condemned to death. Today the bridge is a favourite place where visitors to the city stop to watch the gondolas gently navigating the canals of Venice.