Basilica of San Marco

BASILICA OF SAN MARCO

The visit to the Basilica of St. Mark is a must for anyone who is on vacation in the lagoon.

On the eastern side of the St. Mark Square, the Basilica of San Marco stands between Palazzo Ducale and the Piazzetta dei Leoni (“Lions’ small square”).

The Basilica of San Marco or Doge’s Chapel (the city’s patriarchate was moved to this church only in 1807; before it was at the Doge’s disposal) was built between 1063 and 1094 to treasure St. Mark’s body which seems to have been stolen from Alexandria (Egypt) in 828 by two merchants: Rustico from Torcello and Buono from Malamocco. As soon as it arrived in Venice (the following year), it received an extraordinary reception, hence the Doge Giustiniano Partecipazio’s decision to build a temple in its honour. Unfortunately, the building was completely destroyed by a devastating fire in 976.

Today’s Basilica, with its Greek-cross plan and five domes (one for each bay), dates back to the following century. It was conceived with the typical Byzantine silhouette with Romanesque influences: probably it was designed by a Greek architect and executed by Venetian and Lombard workers. The façade consists of two parts, each with 5 large arcades. On the upper one (endowed with a parapet) you will see copies of four bronze horses: a magnificent work of Byzantine art, the only ancient quadriga survived till the present day. These wonderful gold bronze horses were taken to Venice as part of the war spoils gathered by the Venetians (led by the Doge Enrico Dandolo) after the conquer of Constantinople, at the end of the 4th crusade, with other priceless works of art, many of which are still contained in the Treasury of the basilica.

The INTERIOR boasts more than 4200 square meters of mosaics carried out in 600 years. The most ancient ones are considered the most beautiful ones. They can be found in the Cappella della Pentecoste (la first as you go in). Although the mosaics were made in different periods, they all seem to follow a specific purpose: the exaltation of Christ’s Church. The rest of the decoration focuses on the exaltation of the Venetian church and St. Mark. The floor too is worth being watched with attention, despite its poor condition and the numerous carpets that cover it. Indeed it is a mosaic of coloured marbles and variegated drawings of the 12th century (partly remade at a later date). The main altar contains St. Mark’s urn and behind it is the Pala d’oro (golden altar piece), a magnificent work of Byzantine goldsmithery in gilded silver. The most admired image in St. Mark’s is undoubtedly the Virgin Nikopoeia (who is associated to victory) which was part of the loot obtained from the sack of Constantinople in 1204 (like the rest of the Treasury of St. Mark that is worth a meticulous visit).