When you visit Italy there are a few musts that every visitor must do. The few items on the checklist include eating amazing food, visiting unbelievable museums to see iconic art, and taking a look at all the various historic churches.
From St. Peter’s Basilica to the Churches in Siena, it is fair to say Italy has a lot of beautiful churches. In almost every region and city you will find a church that dates back over 500 years with beautiful architecture and is filled inside with extraordinary pieces of art. It is sometimes amazing just walking into local churches in Tuscany and coming across great works from Renaissance masters. The churches in Italy go beyond the religious but invite all to gaze upon the human achievement that has built these amazing structures during a time when it was not so easy to build.
Along, with Venice’s famous beauty and waterways, stands some impressive churches and basilicas that should not be missed. While it might be impossible to see all of these structures, we have created a list of 10 churches tourists should see when visiting Venice. They are in no particular order, so as to not offend any Venetian church fans.
Basilica of San Marco
This is the biggest and perhaps one of the most famous churches in Venice. The enormous basilica sits in the center of one of the most recognizable squares in the world Saint Mark’s square. This place is so famous that they even have pictures of it in kids’ textbooks in Korea!
That is a level of fame only enjoyed by Korean pop band BTS. This crown jewel of Venice boasts architectural influences from Islamic, middle Byzantine, Romanesque and gothic styles. All these styles are evident throughout the basilica inside and out. From its ornate mosaics telling stories of the capture of St. Mark’s body on the exterior to the massive columns holding the structure in the interior make this a must-see for history and architectural aficionados. Built-in around 836 St. Marks Basilica served as the Dodges chapel from the time it was built until the fall of Serenissima, the Venetian empire in around 1797.
Inside, beyond the awesome mosaics, guests can find works from both Venetian and Tuscan Renaissance artists. Some of the great works come from Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, and Andrea del Castagno, to just name a few.
The oldest and one of the most interesting churches in Venice. The basilica also known to locals as the Church of Santa Maria Assunta is located on the island of Torcello and is one of the most ancient churches in the Veneto region. A fine example of early Christian churches, Torcello’s cathedral hosts a beautiful mosaic from the 11th century. The Byzantine-designed basilica also has an early baptistry from the 7th century and an amazing bell tower where you can see the whole lagoon of Venice from the top. The church is thought to have been finished building in the year 639 based on an ancient inscription found on the Church.
The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore
This beautiful 16th-century church was designed by the architectural master Andrea Palladio. The exterior displays classical Renaissance style with beautifully sculpted marble. The church lies across from Riva Degli Schiavoni and Saint Mark’s square making it a beautiful place to see the overview of the basin of San Marco. Beyond the stunning architecture of Palladio, the interior holds a few important works from Tintoretto including his Last Supper and The Jews in the Desert.
Santa Maria del Giglio
Santa Maria del Giglio or St. Mary of the lilies is an example of beautiful baroque architecture. Built by Giuseppe Sardi this church completed building in 1681. The central ceiling upon entering includes a lovely canvas designed by Antonio Zanchi. Also, inside the church, as you enter the Molin chapel on the right you will find the only work in Venice by famous Flemish painter Reubens. The other famous Flemish artist is Josse de Corte, who designed the exterior sculptures. Which are unique as they have nothing to do with religion. You will find sculptures of Admiral Antonio Barbaro to whom the church is dedicated and sculptures that represent wisdom, fame honor, and virtue.
Madonna dell Orto
Madonna dell Orto is off the normal tourist track but is worth visiting. Located in the predominately residential area of Cannaregio on the backside of the Fondamenta dei Ormesini, this interesting and beautiful church has a strange origin story. The church was built by an obscure religious order called the “Humiliati” in the mid-14th century, by its leader Tiberio da Parma, who was buried inside the church. The Humiliati were kicked out due to their questionable customs that differed from the papacy. Rather than being adorned with marble and sculptures on the exterior like other churches on this list, the exterior is dominated by brick. The interior is stunning with beautiful double-framed pointed arches held by Greek marble columns. Madonna dell Orto also hosts paintings from Tintoretto along with his tomb, as he is buried here.
Santa Maria dei Miracoli
Santa Maria dei Miracoli is a brilliant example of the early Venetian renaissance style. With its beautifully colored marble exterior and unique shape some locals call it the jewelry box church. Located in the Cannaregio area, the church was built by Pietro Lombardo between 1481-1489. The interior is full of marble and has a long ornate marble staircase. While not as big as some of the others on this list what it lacks in size it makes up for in charm.
Santa Maria Della Salute
Santa Maria Della Salute or Saint Mary of Health plays such a vital part in the history and culture of Venice. The church was built in 1631 as an offering to protect Venice from a plague that had dramatically ravaged the population. The Venetian Republic wanted to dedicate the church to Our Lady of Health. Each year on November 21st Venetians go to Santa Maria Della Salute to celebrate the end of the plague and to pray for good health for their families by lighting a candle at the church. This church in Venice is designed in a baroque style and its large beautiful dome became an important addition to the landscape of Venice as made evident in many paintings of Venice. In the building, you can find works from foreign and local artists including Turner and Canaletto.
The Church of Redentore
Il Redentore or Church of the Most Holy Redeemer was built to give thanksgiving for the city surviving a terrible plague that devasted the city in 1576. The church was designed by Andera Palladio in a renaissance style and completed construction in 1592. What many experts consider one of Palladio’s great designs can be seen on the exterior of the church, a dome with a statue of the Redeemer on top of the dome. The church sits on the island of Giudecca and is celebrated on the Feast of the Redeemer every July where Venetians celebrate the end of the plague in 1576 with huge fireworks. The interior of the church includes loads of wonderful artwork from the renaissance period and baroque periods. It also includes works from the Venetian school and the workshop of Tintoretto.
Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
This wonderful basilica is located in San Polo in the Campo Dei Frari. This Franciscan church started building in 1250 and was completed in 1338. The later aspects of the church were not finished until 1516. The church was built in the Venetian Gothic style and includes the second largest bell tower in Venice. This church in Venice includes two beautiful historic organs that were restored in the 1960s. These working organs date back to the 1700s and in 2018 the organs were used again. Inside the church, you will find works from the renaissance period by Giovanni Bellini and Donatello.
The Basilica di San Pietro di Castello
Another church in Venice we like off the normal tourist radar is the basilica of San Pietro di Castello. This church is located in the Castello area which is one of the last truly Venetian residential areas and sits right on the edge of the Venetian lagoon across from the island of Certosa. The church was the main cathedral for Venice from 1451- 1807 until it was later changed to the more popular state church of San Marco. The church’s façade and interior were designed by Andrea Palladio as one of his first commissions. The church also includes a bell tower that is leaning.