St Mark's Basilica

Venice, Italy

The Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark (Basilica di San Marco is the most famous of the Venice's churches and one of the best known examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture. It lies at the eastern end of the Piazza San Marco, adjacent and connected to the Doge's Palace. Originally it was the chapel of the Doge, and has only been the city's cathedral since 1807, when it became the seat of the Patriarch of Venice, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice, formerly at San Pietro di Castello.

For its opulent design, gold ground mosaics, and its status as a symbol of Venetian wealth and power, from the 11th century on the building has been known by the nickname Chiesa d'Oro (Church of gold).

History

The first church was a building next to the Doge's Palace in 828-832, when Venetian merchants stole the supposed relics of Mark the Evangelist from Alexandria. The church was burned in a rebellion in 976, when the populace locked Pietro IV Candiano inside to kill him, and restored or rebuilt in 978. Nothing certain is known of the form of these early churches. The present basilica was constructed probably between 1063-1093. In 1106 the church, and especially its mosaics, were damaged by a serious fire in that part of the city. 

The basic structure of the building has not been much altered. Its decoration has changed greatly over time, though the overall impression of the interior with a dazzling display of gold ground mosaics on all ceilings and upper walls remains the same. The succeeding centuries, especially the period after the Venetian-led conquest of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade of 1204 and the 14th century, all contributed to its adornment, with many elements being spolia brought in from ancient or Byzantine buildings, such as mosaics, columns, capitals, or friezes. Gradually, the exterior brickwork became covered with marble cladding and carvings, some much older than the building itself, such as the statue of the Four Tetrarchs. The latest structural additions include the closing-off of the Baptistery and St Isidor's Chapel (1300s), the carvings on the upper facade and the Sacristy (1400s), and the closing-off of the Zen Chapel (1500s).

Exterior

The facade features five portals decorated in splendid marbles and mosaics, and with a terrace dividing it into two halves. On the terrace stand Four Horses of gilded copper (copies - the originals are now preserved inside) that were sent from Constantinople to Doge Enrico Dandolo in 1204.

Interior

Splendid mosaics in the atrium relate the stories of the Bible. The imposing interior in the form of a Greek cross contains a wealth of paintings and sculptures. Of particular interest are mosaics of Veneto-Byzantine origin, some of them reconstructed from drawings by Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese.

The treasury contains a unique collection of Byzantine portable objects in metalwork, enamel and hardstone carving. Most of them were looted from Constantinople after the Fourth Crusade (although there was a serious fire in the treasury in 1231), with probably a new influx after the 'Franks' were expelled in 1261. Thereafter most objects were made locally, though there are also important Islamic works, especially in rock crystal, and some from Northern Europe. Selections have toured internationally.

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Details

Founded: 1063-1093
Category: Religious sites in Italy

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4.7/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Lex Universe (17 months ago)
Probably the N. 1 tourist spot in Venice would be the San Marco Basilica and Square. Enjoy the view of this beautiful marvel of Itallo-Byzantine architecture. The admission to the basilica is free, but you should consider to make a reservation online (for 1,50 Eur) for the queue can take up 5 hours otherwise. Don't forget that you are in one of the most touristy spots in the world. Connected to the cathedral, you will find the Campanile of St. Mark, a beautiful Romanesque tower providing you unusual views of the town and the whole lagoon. The admission fee is 8 EUR.
Tanja Zupančič (2 years ago)
Very interesting church with rich exterior. Fascinating story about horses that are positioned above the main entrance and do not fit into the whole image of the church. They have a history much longer than the church and were brought to Venice by sea from far away countries.
Shermin (2 years ago)
Wow, its breathtaking. It is very popular destination and crowded but still worth the visit.the architecture its something I have never seen before. Once in a lifetime experience
Daan Molleman (2 years ago)
While it was a bummer that the church was closed for maintenance, but the museum, which was open, left a lot to be desired. It was simply a collection of pieces from the church with a date next to it. The view from the balcony was nice, but not worth the money, and we even paid the reduced fee. The view into the church was nice
Ishan (2 years ago)
The Basilica is one of the most popular sights in Venice, basilica from outside and inside is amazing. It's 2 minute walk from Saint Mark's Square. It's a must watch if you ever visit Venice. Visited this place few years back and came across many people dressed up and wearing mask which was amazing to see. Hope to visit this historical beauty again in near future.
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