IN PHOTOS: Venice opens St Mark’s palazzo to visitors for the first time

The Renaissance-era buildings flanking St Mark's Square have long been one part of Venice that couldn't be visited. Now, local residents have been allowed the first look inside before the buildings open to the public this month.

IN PHOTOS: Venice opens St Mark's palazzo to visitors for the first time
Cristiano Billia, associate director at David Chipperfield Architects in Milan, poses by the Procuratie Vecchie building after its restoration. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

For centuries, the impressive arcades flanking St Mark’s Square in Venice have embodied the watery city’s elegance and architectural significance.

Now, the Renaissance-era palazzo, whose galleries span as far as the eye can see on the north side of the square, is opening to the public for the first time on Friday, following a three-year renovation.

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The building, known as the Procuratie Vecchie, was long the seat of the Procurators of St Mark, who for centuries administered the assets of the church in the wealthy city of Venice, away from the public eye.

An exclusive invitation for locals to finally glimpse the interior of the storied palace following Friday’s inauguration has already attracted reservations from more than 3,000 Venetians. Doors will be open to tourists from around the world from April 13.

Visitors walk in the Procuratie Vecchie building after its restoration. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Built in the 12th century, the Procuratie Vecchie was devastated by fire in 1512, its Venetian-Byzantine building replaced in 1538 by the Renaissance gem in classical style, whose arches – along with the square’s basilica, belltower – are one of the St. Mark’s most recognised features.

The exteror of Venice’s Procuratie Vecchie. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

The building is now owned by Italian insurer Generali,which commissioned renowned English architect David Chipperfield to breathe new life into the building.

Although St Mark’s Square is one of the world’s most famous, “none of us has really imagined what is behind these facades,” Chipperfield told AFP, adding it was rare for such a big square to enjoy “such a coherent facade”.

The entrance hall of the Procuratie Vecchie building after its restoration. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

“Superficially it all looks as if it has been built in one time, but it has been built by a number of architects over 100 years,” he said, adding that his role was to correct many of the “haphazard changes” made over the years.

Besides restoring the first and second floors and improving accessibility on higher floors, the work has included building a new home for The Human Safety Net, a foundation launched by Generali to help the world’s most vulnerable, including refugees.

The renovation includes the addition of exhibition rooms, an auditorium and a cafe.

The foundation’s director, Emma Ursich, said the Procuratie Vecchie was a fitting spot for the group, given that the Venetian officials who lived and worked there were also responsible for widows, orphans and the destitute.

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A public reading room in the Procuratie Vecchie. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

“So for us it’s a nice homage to the history and to the identity of this building that we have the home of The Human Safety Net here, which works around social inclusion topics,” Ursich said.

To the left of the main entrance, the winged lion of Saint Mark, symbol of the city but also the emblem of Generali, is inlaid in the white marble wall.

A plaque commemorates the birth in 1831 of the insurer in Trieste, which moved part of its operations to Venice the following year.

A visitor views an interactive exhibition in the Procuratie Vecchie building. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Local residents view an interactive exhibition in the Procuratie Vecchie building. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP.

The recovery project took three years following a two-year design phase aimed at preserving as much of the existing structure as possible.

“We had a building that had been compromised over a very long period of time. It had been modified, added on, changed,” said Chipperfield. “So our responsibility was to bring the building back into some type of integrity.”

Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Chipperfield lauded Italy’s skilled craftsmen who “have been restoring buildings for a thousand years”. They relied on techniques and materials that are part of Venice’s tradition, such as a finishing plaster with a satin effect known as “marmorino”, and “terrazzo”, a mix of coloured marble fragments and cement for floors and walls. 

Just across the square is the 17th-century Procuratie Nuove building. The home of illustrious members of the Habsburg dynasty in the mid-1800s, the structure overlooks the secretive Royal Gardens along the Grand Canal.

The gardens were reopened to the public in 2019 after five years of restoration.

A view of St. Mark’s square, the Caffe Florian and the Procuratie Nuove building from the Procuratie Vecchie. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

By AFP’s Brigitte Hagemann

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MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

Here are the remote Italian villages worth seeking out in 2022, according to a list compiled by one of the country's leading tourism associations.

MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

A total of 270 villages across Italy have been recognised as being especially tourist-friendly this year by the Italian Touring Club (Touring Club Italiano), one of the country’s largest non-profit associations dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism throughout the territory.

‘Orange Flag’ status is awarded if a village is judged to have significant historic, cultural and environmental value, as well as for being welcoming to visitors and outsiders, according to the initiative’s website.

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Villages can apply for the status if they are located inland with no coastal stretches; have fewer than 15,000 inhabitants; have a well-preserved historic centre and a strong sense of cultural identity; demonstrate sensitivity to issues of sustainability; have a well-organised tourist reception system; and show an intention to continue to make improvements to the town.

The list is updated annually, and in 2022 three new villages gained orange flag status for the first time: Dozza in Emilia Romagna, Manciano in Tuscany, and Sasso di Castalda in Basilicata.

See below for the map and a list of the Orange Flag villages according to region:

Montepulciano in Tuscany has 'orange flag' status.

Montepulciano in Tuscany has ‘orange flag’ status. Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP.

Abruzzo – 7 villages

Civitella Alfadena, Fara San Martino, Lama dei Peligni, Opi, Palena, Roccascalegna, Scanno.

Basilicata – 6 villages

Aliano, Castelmezzano, Perticara Guard, San Severino Lucano, Sasso di Castalda, Valsinni.

Calabria – 6 villages

Bova, Civita, Gerace, Morano Calabro, Oriolo, Tavern.

Campania – 5 villages

Cerreto Sannita, Letino, Morigerati, Sant’Agata de’ Goti, Zungoli.

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Emilia Romagna – 23 villages

Bagno di Romagna, Bobbio, Brisighella, Busseto, Castell’Arquato, Castelvetro di Modena, Castrocaro Terme and Terra del Sole, Dozza, Fanano, Fiumalbo, Fontanellato, Longiano, Montefiore Conca, Monteleone, Pennabilli, Pieve di Cento, Portico and San Benedetto, Premilcuore, San Leo, Sarsina, Sestola, Verucchio, Vigoleno.

Friuli Venezia Giulia – 7 villages

Andreis, Barcis, Cividale del Friuli, Frisanco, Maniago, San Vito al Tagliamento, Sappada.

Lazio – 20 villages

Arpino, Bassiano, Bolsena, Bomarzo, Calcata, Campodimele, Caprarola, Casperia, Collepardo, Fossanova, Labro, Leonessa, Nemi, San Donato Val di Comino, Sermoneta, Subiaco, Sutri, Trevignano Romano, Tuscania, Vitorchiano.

Liguria – 17 villages

Airole, Apricale, Balducco, Brugnato, Castelnuovo Magra, Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena, Dolceacqua, Perinaldo, Pigna, Pinion, Santo Stefano d’Aveto, Sassello, Seborga, Toirano, Triora, Vallebona, Varese Ligure.

Lombardy – 16 villages

Almenno San Bartolomeo, Bellano, Bienno, Castellaro Lagusello, Chiavenna, Clusone, Gardone Riviera, Gromo, Menaggio, Pizzighettone, Ponti sul Mincio, Sabbioneta, Sarnico, Solferino, Tignale, Torno.

Marche – 24 villages

Acquaviva Picena, Amandola, Camerino, Cantiano, Cingoli, Corinaldo, Frontino, Genga, Gradara, Mercatello sul Metauro, Mondavio, Montecassiano, Montelupone, Monterubbiano, Offagna, Ostra , Ripatransone, San Ginesio, Sarnano, Serra San Quirico, Staffolo, Urbisaglia, Valfornace, Visso.

Molise – 5 villages

Agnone, Ferrazzano, Frosolone, Roccamandolfi, Scapoli.

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San Gimignano has long been an orange flag destination.

San Gimignano has long been an orange flag destination. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP.

Piedmont – 40 villages 

Agliè, Alagna Valsesia, Arona, Avigliana, Barolo, Bene Vagienna, Bergolo, Candelo, Canelli, Cannero Riviera, Cannobio, Castagnole delle Lanze, Cherasco, Chiusa di Pesio, Cocconato, Entracque, Fenestrelle, Fobello, Gavi, Grinzane Cavour, Guarene, La Morra, Limone Piemonte, Macugnaga, Malesco, Mergozzo, Moncalvo, Monforte d’Alba, Neive, Orta San Giulio, Ozzano Monferrato, Revello, Rosignano Monferrato, Santa Maria Maggiore, Susa, Trisobbio, Usseaux, Usseglio, Varallo, Vogogna.

Puglia – 13 villages

Alberona, Biccari, Bovino, Cisternino, Corigliano d’Otranto, Locorotondo, Oria, Orsara di Puglia, Pietramontecorvino, Rocchetta Sant’Antonio, Sant’Agata di Puglia, Specchia, Troia.

Sardinia – 7 villages

Aggius, Galtellì, Gavoi, Laconi, Oliena, Sardara, Tempio Pausania.

Sicily – 1 village

Petralia Sottana

Tuscany – 40 villages

Abetone Cutigliano, Anghiari, Barberino Tavarnelle, Barga, Casale Marittimo, Casciana Terme Lari, Casale d’Elsa, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Castelnuovo di Val di Cecina, Castiglion Fiorentino, Certaldo, Cetona, Chiusi, Collodi, Fosdinovo, Lucignano, Manciano, Massa Marittima, Montalcino, Montecarlo, Montefollonico, Montepulciano, Monteriggioni, Murlo, Peccioli, Pienza, Pitigliano, Pomarance, Radda in Chianti, Radicofani, San Casciano dei Bagni, San Gimignano, Santa Fiora, Sarteano, Sorano, Suvereto, Trequanda, Vicopisano, Vinci, Volterra. 

Trentino Alto Adige – 8 villages

Ala, Caderzone Terme, Campo Tures/Sand in Taufers, Ledro, Levico Terme, Molveno, Tenno, Vipiteno/Sterzing.

Umbria – 10 villages

Bevagna, Città della Pieve, Montefalco, Montone, Nocera Umbra, Norcia, Panicale, Spello, Trevi, Vallo di Nera.

Val d’Aosta – 3 villages

Etroubles, Gressoney-Saint-Jean, Introd.

Veneto – 12 villages

Arquà Petrarca, Asolo, Borgo Valbelluna, Cison di Valmarino, Follina, Malcesine, Marostica, Montagnana, Portobuffolè, Rocca Pietore, Soave, Valeggio sul Mincio.