St. Mark’s Square Walking Tour

For an overview of this grand square and the buildings that surround it, start from the west end of the square and follow along with this guide

St. Mark’s Square charms most visitors to Venice. Napoleon once called it “the most beautiful drawing room in Europe.” (Courtesy of Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door)

(Continued from page 4)

At the waterfront in the Piazzetta, turn left and walk (east) along the water. At the top of the first bridge, look inland at...

The Bridge of Sighs

In the Doge’s Palace (on your left), the government doled out justice. On your right are the prisons. (Don’t let the palatial facade fool you—see the bars on the windows?) Prisoners sentenced in the palace crossed to the prisons by way of the covered bridge in front of you. This was called the Prisons’ Bridge until the Romantic poet Lord Byron renamed it in the 19th century. From this bridge, the convicted got their final view of sunny, joyous Venice before entering the black and dank prisons. According to the Romantic legend, they sighed. As you will, too, when you see the scaffolding.

Venice has been a major tourist center for four centuries. Anyone who’s ever come here has stood on this very spot, looking at the Bridge of Sighs. Lean on the railing leaned on by everyone from Casanova to Byron to Hemingway.

I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs,
a palace and a prison on each hand.
I saw, from out the wave, her structures rise,
as from the stroke of the enchanter’s wand.
A thousand years their cloudy wings expand
around me, and a dying glory smiles
o’er the far times, when many a subject land
looked to the Winged Lion’s marble piles,
where Venice sat in state, throned on her hundred isles!
• from Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage
• Sigh.

For more details, please see Rick Steves’ Venice.

Rick Steves ( writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. E-mail him at, or write to him c/o P.O. Box 2009, Edmonds, WA 98020.

© 2010 Rick Steves

About Rick Steves
Rick Steves

Rick Steves is a travel writer and television personality. He coordinated with Smithsonian magazine to produce a special travel issue Travels with Rick Steves.

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