This is such a lovely and magical spot. The 12th century cloister of Sant’ Apollonia is the oldest surviving cloister in Venice and today is part of the Museo Diocesano di Venezia (Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art).
The cloister was part of a Benedictine monastery adjacent to the now demolished church of SS. Filippo e Giacomo. The monastery was built for monks who originally resided on the lagoon island of Ammiana, which sank after the Christmas Day earthquake of 1223, and so the monks moved to Venice. Sinking islands and monasteries…it makes me think about scuba-diving archeologists and what all they might find in the waters of that lagoon.
The museum has a nice collection of paintings, sculpture, and treasure from demolished and deconsecrated churches, and also displays art from churches that are undergoing restoration. It has hosted various temporary exhibits including the great 1996 show Chihuly Over Venice (a photo of one of his amazing glass sculptures in the Sant’ Apollonia cloister is here).
The best work in the museum is a huge painted wooden relief of San Donato by Paolo Veneziano, dated 1310, and formerly in the church on Murano. There’s a whole room of gold and silver treasure (chalices and reliquaries and such), and the collection also includes the Marciano Lapidary, a bunch of very cool Veneto-Byzantine decorative stone fragments from the Basilica. But the main reason to visit the museum is to see this beautiful cloister with its ancient herringbone brick pavement and its nice vera da pozzo (well-head).
The museum is open from 10-6 daily. It’s right behind Piazza San Marco, along the canal behind the Bridge of Sighs. A great place to escape from the tourist crush! The museum used to be free but now charges 4 euros. But if you go to Torcello (and everyone needs to go there!) and buy a ticket for the Cathedral, you can return to Venice and use that ticket for free admission to the Diocesan Museum.
As I was leaving the cloister, I ran into this little guy! It seemed unusual to see a lizard in Venice so I took his picture. :)