St Mark’s Square, known as “the drawing room” of Venice, is undoubtedly the main attraction for any tourist coming to the city.
Even for a native like me, who has spent over half a century living in Venice, the square still has the power to enchant each time that you walk across it, offering an ever-changing spectacle of light, colour and human life, depending on the season and the time of day.
Early in the morning, when it is almost deserted, Venetians walk briskly across on their way to work while fitness fans, often from other countries, pass quickly through, determined to fit in an hour of jogging through the narrow streets and bridges.
Later, the tourists arrive, taking photographs and being photographed in every last corner; hordes of waving arms, clutching the essential smartphone as they move around the square. And immediately, hundreds of photos and video clips are uploaded onto the net and social media, showing where they are to friends, acquaintances and… followers.
A photo with the pigeons is a must, and it’s fun to watch parents trying to persuade their scared and reluctant offspring to hold a pigeon for the classic photo shot.
Poses and behaviour go from funny to stiffly reserved, with everything in between: from essential “selfies” to fun group photos of students on trips or of Japanese youngsters in creative poses, immortalised in front of the basilica or the Doge’s Palace.
But for the tourists, most fun is to be had in those rare moments during the summer when the piazza is suddenly flooded by an unexpected “acqua alta” (high water). Faced with this unusual phenomenon, outsiders can witness the most bizarre scenes, such as people paddling across St Mark’s Square with their shoes in their hands as though they were on the beach, while others recline in the sun.
Amidst the colourful crowd filling the square, you can often pick out a pair of newly-weds who have chosen the most romantic city in the world for their wedding and honeymoon. They struggle to find a less crowded spot for their wedding photos while hordes of tourists follow them round, desperate to get their own shots of the happy couple.
Meanwhile, in the quietest and most solitary corner of the square, a painter patiently puts onto canvas the image of floating gondolas set against the backdrop of the Basin of San Marco and Santa Maria della Salute church.