San Giorgio Maggiore. Island in Venice, Italy

San Giorgio Maggiore

Island in Venice, Italy

San Giorgio Maggiore Photo © Dennis Jarvis

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San Giorgio Maggiore

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San Giorgio Maggiore 4 - San Giorgio Maggiore
San Giorgio Maggiore 4 - San Giorgio Maggiore. Photo by mariejirousek
The tiny island of San Giorgio Maggiore with its ‘Campanile’ (bell tower) and church of the same name, separated by a small channel from the Giudecca (Wikipedia Article), is only a short boat ride from the pier at St. Mark’s Square.

It used to be called the ‘Isola dei Cipressi’ or ‘Isola Memmia’, after the family which donated it.

The beautiful basilica and monastery dedicated to San Giorgio sits on the island overlooking the Basin of San Marco.

The Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore is a masterpiece of the classical Renaissance style and contains some superb paintings.

Also worth a visit is the interesting monastery. Over the years it has been home to both the Venetian military and the exiled Cosimo de'Medici (Wikipedia Article), and today is the headquarters of the Cini Foundation, which works to preserve the city's culture and art.

It is possible to spend the night in the monastery, by prior notification, and the price is not fixed, you pay as much as you think is enough.

San Giorgio Maggiore - San Giorgio
San Giorgio Maggiore. Photo by HarshLight


The island was donated to form a Benedictine monastery in 982 AD. The Doge Memmo, who owned this piece of land, donated the island to a monk named ‘Giovanni Morosini’. The first church to be dedicated to San Giorgio was built shortly after. The church was rebuilt on several occasions, and its final spectacular and imposing result was designed by Andrea Palladio. After the Napoleonic period and Habsburg Empire, when the island became a military garrison, San Giorgio Maggiore became the property of the Italian State. Today, the non-profit Vittorio Cini Foundation organizes numerous exhibitions and cultural events. One of its ventures is the Teatro Verde, the island's open-air theater, where you can watch plays and classical concerts in summer. The Basilica still operates as a Catholic church, managed by the Benedictine monks.

What to See

Basilica San Giorgio Maggiore - San
	Giorgio Maggiore
Basilica San Giorgio Maggiore - San Giorgio Maggiore. Photo by Dave King

Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore

One of Venice's greatest churches, San Giorgio Maggiore, the creation of Andrea Palladio, was designed in 1566 and completed in 1610. It’s dedicated to San Giorgio (St. George), a saint famed for defeating a dragon. The white Istrian stone façade shows Palladio’s famous innovation of two superimposed temple fronts. Palladio believed that white was the color most pleasing to God. He also designed the adjoining monastery, with later additions from Baldassarre Longhena. The location of the church on the island adds to its majesty, with its image being reflected in the water. The three-nave interior of the church is designed in the shape of a cross.

The highlights are two pictures of Tintoretto's later works in the choir room. One is of the ‘Last Supper’ and the other is the ‘Gathering of Manna’. Meant to be viewed as a pair from the altar rail, the paintings are a bit challenging to see because they are so hemmed in. Also of significance is the ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’ by Jacopo Bassano to the right of the entrance.


Take a lift up the 60 meter-high bell tower for magnificent Ventian panoramas. Just in front of the ticket office stands the huge statue of an angel that crowned the bell tower until it was struck by lightning in 1993. To the left of the statue, a corridor gives access to the lift that takes you up to the bell tower. The original campanile was built in 1467 and collapsed in 1774, killing a monk. The recent neo-Classical bell tower was completed in 1791 in the style of the nearby bell in St. Mark's Square.

With no long lines to get in, no crowds at the top, and with views including a picture perfect shot of Piazza San Marco just across the waters, it should not to be missed. Try to take in the views at the top at the hour, the bells are delightfully loud.

View from San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice -
	San Giorgio Maggiore
View from San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice. Photo by R Alescio


Venice sunrise -
	San Giorgio Maggiore
Venice sunrise - San Giorgio Maggiore. Photo by MorBCN
The church and bell tower are open Monday – Saturday from 9.30 AM to 18.00 PM, Sunday from 8:30 AM to 11:00 AM and from 14:30 PM to 18:30 PM.

Access to the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore is free to enter but you'll have to pay a fee for the ride to the top of the bell tower. The monastery is only open on weekends with frequent guided tours in English. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a kind monk who is willing to take you up the dark spiral staircase to the chapel where the San Giorgio and the Dragon by Carpaccio hangs over the high altar.

Getting There

You can reach the island of San Giorgio Maggiore with the water bus 'vaporetto' Line 2 from San Zaccaria. The crossing takes only a few minutes. The vaporetto stops just outside the church. It is especially cost effective if you have an unlimited vaporetto pass.

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Author: Ayda. Last updated: Oct 17, 2014


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