To the classically-minded Edward Gibbon on his grand tour the whole piazza was just “a large square decorated with the worst architecture I ever saw”.   To Bernard Berenson “Venice was above all things the Piazza” and he praised the “fairy like quality” of the Piazza on a moonlit evening.  Famously described by Napoleon as “finest drawing room in the world” the Piazza is the traditional heart of Venice, centred on a remarkable constellation of buildings including the Byzantine Basilica of San Marco,  the Gothic Doge’s Palace, the Torre d’Orologio and the Renaissance arcades of the Procuratie Vecchie and Nuove (housing the Biblioteca Marciana and Museo Correr as well as the famous Florian and Quadri cafés) between which, on the West side, Napoleon inserted the so-called Ala Napoleonica on the site of the church of San Geminiano.  The only square in Venice to be called a piazza, (all the others squares are campi )it leads off at right angles to the smaller square known as the Piazzetta with its landing stage in front of the Doge’s Palace known as the Molo.  This was an important ceremonial centre where ambassadors disembarked and took their leave as is shown in paintings by Luca Carlevaris and was also the place of public executions.  Henry James described the Piazza as like “the lobby of an opera in the intervals of a performance”, but arguably it is more like a stage on which were performed, against the backdrop of San Marco, the elaborate processions of the religious confraternities recorded in the paintings of Gentile Bellini.  In more recent times spectators have been able to observe the goings on in the Piazza while listening to music in Florians and Quadri’s famous café’s seated at the same tables as Wagner and Proust.  The campanile, which in Bellini’s painting has been tidied away into the right-hand top corner to create a more regular composition centred on the Basilica, fell down in 1902. An exact replica was rebuilt partly paid for by J.P. Morgan who returned to Venice the year before his death to participate in the reopening ceremony.  Amazingly the only casualty of its collapse was a cat.