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From the eighteenth century onwards the buildings have housed a number of busy coffee houses, the best-known being the Caffé Florian, which has been a favourite haunt of leading writers and artists throughout the centuries. The Piazza is dominated by the magnificent Basilica of St. Mark, with its five great domes and Byzantine gold mosaics. Set on the terrace is a quartet of prancing bronze horses, spoils of war brought back by the Venetians during the Crusades.
Next to the Basilica stands the Doges' Palace, formerly the Doges' private residence and a symbol of the power of the Venetian Republic. The main body of the building rises majestically above an arcade of pillars, creating a remarkably airy effect. Today, the Piazza is always crowded with strolling tourists and Venetians, their chatter mingling with the strains of the cafe orchestras. Since earliest times, it has been the stage for public ceremonies, political events and religious festivals such as the Ascension fair. When Carnival was in its heyday, it was the setting for masquerades and such daring feats as the "Flight of the Angel", and even now retains its universal appeal as the "drawing room of the world".