The island of San Giorgio Maggiore is one of the most iconic sights in Venice, yet many visitors to the city only admire it from across the water – thereby missing out on one of La Serenissima’s most interesting and enjoyable cultural highlights.
Starting life as a monastery in 982, the current basilica was built in the 16th century by the great Italian architect Andrea Palladio, and is considered by many to be his masterpiece; a monumental Renaissance structure with a dazzling white stone facade and a soaring, luminous interior. The church houses a number of important works of art, including two outstanding late paintings by Tintoretto that flank the altar, depicting the Fall of Manna and the Last Supper. But arguably the greatest scene of all is the sweeping 360 degree view over Venice and the lagoon from the top of the bell tower, which can be ascended by lift (often without a queue, unlike the San Marco Campanile).
When planning your visit to the island, be sure to arrange a guided tour of the monastery buildings that now house the Fondazione Giorgio Cini – a cultural foundation established in 1951 by industrialist and arts patron Count Vittorio Cini.
Starting in the monastery’s serene Palladian cloister, the tour leads you through a series of fascinating rooms including the monastic refectory and 17th century library designed by Baldassarre Longhena.
A visit also provides access to the the magnificent “Manica Lunga” – a long corridor that originally served as the monastic dormitory, and today houses a library of around 100,000 books.
From a roof terrace, you can enjoy an aerial view of the beautiful Borges Labyrinth – a boxwood maze that was inaugurated in 2011 in memory of the Argentinian writer and scholar Jorge Luis Borges.
Finally, if at all possible, we highly recommend coinciding your visit with one of the excellent afternoon concerts that take place at the “Lo Squero” auditorium – a converted boat workshop with a plate glass wall providing stunning panoramic views over the water towards Venice. Opened last year, the auditorium is still one of the city’s best-kept secrets.
PLUS: DON’T MISS: “Ettore Sottsass: The Glass” at LE STANZE DEL VETRO until 30th July 2017
Also based on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, LE STANZE DEL VETRO is a contemporary gallery space that presents first-rate exhibitions of 20th and 21st century glass. The current show explores the glass of Ettore Sottsass (1917-2007), a pioneering Italian architect and designer responsible for landmark objects including the first portable typewriter. Timed to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth, the exhibition is “dedicated to revealing a never before seen Sottsass” (Luca Massimo Barbero, curator), bringing together more than 220 works from 1947-2007. Highly experimental in technique, with playful forms and eye-popping colours, many of the works have never been displayed in public before. With free admission, this show is a must-visit for anyone interested in modern design.