Appearing like a stage set across the water from the Piazzetta, the little island of San Giorgio Maggiore has been captured on canvas countless times.
The church and monastery, built between 1559 and 1580, are among Andrea Palladio’s greatest architectural achievements. The church’s temple front and the spacious, serene interior with its perfect proportions and cool beauty are typically Palladian, modelled on the Classical style of ancient Rome.
Within the church of San Giorgio Maggiore, on the chancel walls, are two late Tintorretto art works: The Last Supper and the Gathering of the Manna. In the Chapel of the Dead, his last work, The Deposition, was finished by his son Domenico.
The top of the tall campanile, reached by a lift, affords a superb panorama of St. Marks Square,, the city and the lagoon.
Centuries ago, Benedictine monks occupied the original monastery, which was rebuilt in the 13th century following an earthquake. It later became a centre of learning and a residence for eminent foreign visitors. Following the fall of the Republic in 1797, the monastery was suppressed and many of its treasures were stolen.
In 1829, the island became a free port, and in 1851, the headquarters of the artillery. By this time it had changed beyond recognition. The complex regained its role as an active cultural centre when the monastery, embracing Palladio’s cloisters, refectory and library, was purchased in 1951 by Count Vittorio Cini. There, he founded a marine College for sailors’ orphans, dedicated to the memory of his own son, Giorgio, who died in an air battle during the last World War. Vittorio Cini did this in cooperation with the Benedictine monks who are world renowned as librarians and book-restorers.
The Monastery Library, now administered by the Institute of High Culture , houses a marvellous collection of manuscripts and rare books.
Today the modern cultural Cini Foundation is a thriving centre of Venetian culture hosting events and exhibitions. There is also an open air theatre.