St. Mark's Basilica (Basilica San Marco)
The St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco)
The sacred jewel of Venice
The glorious and magnificent St. Mark’s Basilica in the centre of Venice is more than 1,000 years old. Four previous churches form the basis of the present building. The original building was the Doge Chapel, which was built in the middle of the9th century when sailors brought the relics of St. Mark to Venice. From this point onwards St. Mark’s church gained steadily in importance and was sponsored and expanded by the Doge. Since 1094, St. Mark’s Basilica has been the state church of Venice and the principal church in the lagoon city. The church cathedral gained in stature in 1807. In 1075 the Doge Domenico Selvo adopted a law which forced every sailor to bring a precious jewel in honour of St. Mark on his return. This is the origin of the luxurious decoration with different materials and jewellery from all over Europe.
The exterior of St. Mark’s Basilica
If you stand on the Piazza San Marco, the cathedral is the central building next to the Campanile. Its Venetian-Byzantine appearance with five domes is in itself unique in the West. The main facade is dominated by five mosaic-decorated, arched portals, on which the famous bronze horses are enthroned. The recesses and projections of the facade incorporate precious spoils, which come from the sailors. The lunettes of the four side portals display the history of the Mark’s relics and their transfer to Venice. In the main entrance Jesus Christ is enthroned as a judge at the last judgement. The arch mosaics on the floor above show scenes from the Passion of Christ. Also noteworthy are the statues of the tetrarchs on the southern corner next to the Doge’s palace. These statues, which probably depict four Roman emperors, were stolen by the Venetians from Constantinople.
The interior of St. Mark’s Cathedral
Inside the cathedral you will marvel at the stunning sight of the three-aisled, five-domed with mosaic-covered interior. Such lavish and ostentatious decoration and furnishings are truly unique in Europe. In addition to the many great attractions and details it is important to emphasise five main highlights:
- The mosaics in St. Mark’s are mostly from the 12th and 13th century and cover an incredible area of 4,200 m2. Some mosaics were replaced in the 15th and 18th centuries by famous Venetian artists like Titian, Tintoretto, Tiepolo and Veronese. The main topic of the mosaics is Jesus Christ and they draw a remarkably complete picture of his life.
- As gorgeous the mosaic ceiling is as, the floor deserves as much attention. The floor mosaics also cover an area of more than 2,000 m2 and show beautiful perspective patterns, animal motifs and ornaments. Unfortunately many mosaics are covered with carpets for protection reasons today.
- The treasury on the right-hand side contains especially many art treasures that were looted during the conquest of Constantinople. Among the exhibits are the “Throne of St. Mark”, a chair made of marble and a censer of gilded silver.
- The high altar houses the remains of St. Mark. Noteworthy are the relief-decorated pillars of the canopy.
- The last highlight of the cathedral interior is the famous Pala d’Oro, the golden altar table. It is located behind the high altar and can be visited by paying a small admission fee. This masterpiece of goldsmith’s art was developed in several phases between the 10th and the 13th century. Countless precious stones, pearls and enamel medallions are incorporated into the plate. Byzantine works and prey items from Constantinople can be also found in the Pala d’Oro. Without doubt it is a masterpiece which is worth seeing.
Gallery and museum Marciano
From the porch, right by the main entrance, you can reach the museum Marciano via a steep staircase. The small admission fee for the museum is worth paying. The museum has numerous tapestries, sculptures and liturgical vestments. The former cladding of the Pala d’Oro by Paolo Veneziano is also on display. However, a highlight of the museum are the four bronze horses. Their long history leads from Greece of the 4th century B.C. to Rome, then on to Constantinople and back to Italy to Venice on the top of the balcony of the Basilica. In 1797 Napoleon stole the horses and brought them to Paris before they returned permanently to Venice. While the originals are kept in the museum, the replicas of the four horses are perched a few metres away on the balcony of the St. Mark’s Basilica. From the balcony you have a beautiful view over the busy Piazza San Marco and the lagoon of Venice.
Cathedral - free entrance
Pala d'Oro - € 1,50
Treasury - € 2,-
Museum Marciano & Gallery - € 3,-
Landing stage: Vallaresso San Marco or San Zaccaria