Whether it is your first or fifteenth time in Venice, it is easy to get lost amid the labyrinth of bridges, footpaths and waterways, but save that pleasure for later. On this walking tour, a knowledgeable guide will navigate the city for you, uncovering its treasures as he or she shares its tales. Travel by boat down the beautiful Guidecca Canal to the heart of Venice, St Mark’s Square, and disembark at the bustling Riva degli Schiavoni. Stand in the regally proportioned square so famous for its pigeons and pealing bell towers. Sights here include the Campanile and the 15thcentury clock tower where two huge bronze statues strike the hour.
Walk to St Mark's Basilica, a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture, and admire its façade mosaics and golden dome, both superbly restored to their original grandeur. Next, take in the beauty of the Doge's Palace, a 14th-century Gothic masterpiece with pink marble exterior and lacy stone arches. For nearly a thousand years, this was the seat of the Venetian government and the residence of the Republic's elected leader, the Doge. After viewing this sight from outside, you'll have free time to explore the shops and cafes around St Mark's Square, where necklaces of Venetian glass make a treasured souvenir.
Travel by boat to two islands of the Venetian Lagoon: Murano of glass-making fame, and Burano with its gaily painted fishermen's houses. En route, your guide will provide information, then enjoy independent exploration at each destination.
Start with a visit to Murano, "the island of glass." In the 13th century the glass factories moved here from the city to prevent fires and by the 15th century this was the leading glassproducing center in Europe, noted especially for its chandeliers. To this day glass-making is the heart of the local economy. You'll have the opportunity to watch a master at work and see why these artisans once enjoyed privileges reserved for the ruling elite, including immunity from prosecution and the right to bear arms. The island's 11th-century Camaldolese Benedictine Monastery of St Michael fostered map making, critical to the era of navigation.
Your next stop, Burano, is actually an archipelago of islands connected by bridges. Stroll along canals lined with brightly painted boats and just-as-colorful houses. While the men fished, the women specialized in delicate lace, and the island was an important trading hub in the 16th century. Today, lace made by the time-consuming traditional methods is highly prized and can be seen in the Lace making Museum.
San Giovanni Evangelista is one of five medieval “Scuola Grandi” Great Schools that once provided charitable and artistic patronage to the people of Venice and played an important part in the complex Venetian social system of its day. This very special event inside its magnificent rooms is exclusive to Voyages to Antiquity and begins with a fascinating guided tour around the complex, after which an apéritif will be served in the pilgrim’s gathering place, the grand Sala delle Colonne (“Hall of Columns”).
Founded in 1261, San Giovanni Evangelista is the second oldest scuola in Venice and is famed throughout the Christian world for possessing a piece of the True Cross, which was donated to the school by a French knight and governor of Jerusalem, Philippe de Mézières, in 1369. The arrival of this most Holy Relic transformed the scuola from a confraternity of flagellants into a powerful Renaissance guild capable of commissioning paintings by many important artists, including Gentile Bellini, Vittore Carpaccio and Titian.
Most of these works are now on display in the Gallerie dell’Accademies, but San Giovanni is still home to some wonderful pieces, including Domenico Tintoretto’s 17th century rendition of the Crucifixion, as well as episodes from the life of St John the Evangelist. During your tour you will be able to see Codussi’s magnificent vaulted Scalone Monumentale (Great Staircase), followed by the elegant 18th century Salone, that was designed by Giorgio Massari to house a series of scenes by Tiepolo from the Book of Revelation. The Sala Dell’Albergo is where the school governors would originally have convened, but it is the Oratory of the Cross, where the piece of the True Cross is kept inside its Gothic reliquary, that is the spiritual and symbolic centre of the scuola.