live-feed webcams positioned in various parts of Venice, including the Grand Canal and San Marco Basilica. He used it for weeks prior to our trip in order to check out the crowds at San Marco Square and basically came to the conclusion that it was always busy except for early in the morning and late at night. We happened to look at the feed for the Grand Canal on the day of the annual Volgalonga Regatta (which was just 4 days before our arrival .. too bad!). We were delighted to watch kayaks and row boats of all shapes, sizes and number of occupants sail by in this 30km paddling/rowing race through the city of Venice and the lagoon up to Burano.
One of the highlights of the Doge's Palace tour was the visit to the New Prison, which we accessed by actually crossing through the Bridge of Sighs, re-enacting the passage taken by prisoners as they were led to their cells. Having admired the bridge from the outside, it was quite the experience to see it from the inside, and be able to look out the windows to see the Venetian lagoon. You could imagine the prisoners sighing at the thought of never viewing this beauty again.
We were told stories about the bones of Saint Mark, for which the Basilica and Square are named after. After his death in Alexandria, Egypt, his bones were stolen by two Venetian merchants in 828AD and smuggled out of Egypt while packed in a crate covered with pork and cabbage leaves. These relics are believed to now lie within San Marco Basilica. In fact, another legend tells that Saint Mark's bones were once lost in a fire, but he raised his hand out of the ashes to indicate where he was.
Since the Basilica was now closed to the general public, we had to wait for the security guard to reopen the gates in order to let us in. Asked to sit in the pews and look up, we watched in awe as the lights were slowly turned on to illuminate the gorgeous mosaics, made of glass covered with 24-carot-gold leaf, that covered the walls and ceilings of the cathedral. Carefully examining the images created by the mosaics, we were able to see allegorical depictions of various biblical stories including the Story of Christ, the Story of Creation, Adam & Eve, the 12 Disciples, Cain and Able, Noah's Ark, and the Tower of Babel.
The guide told us to compare the original mosaics created in the Byzantium times (around 11th Century) with the newer mosaics created in the 16th Century. The originals were flat, no perspective, but used dark lines surrounding the figures to highlight their actions and emphasize the point of the allegory. By contrast, the newer mosaics looked more realistic in terms of perspective, but in the opinion of the guide, they did not convey the message of the stories as effectively.
At the end of the tour, we all agreed that this was indeed a memorable experience and well worth the money.