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).
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).
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.
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.References:
Sirmione castle was built near the end of the 12th century as part of a defensive network surrounding Verona. The castle was maintained and extended first as part of the Veronese protection against their rivals in Milan and later under the control of the Venetian inland empire. The massive fortress is totally surrounded by water and has an inner porch which houses a Roman and Medieval lapidary. From the drawbridge, a staircase leads to the walkways above the walls, providing a marvellous view of the harbour that once sheltered the Scaliger fleet. The doors were fitted with a variety of locking systems, including a drawbridge for horses, carriages and pedestrians, a metal grate and, more recently, double hinged doors. Venice conquered Sirmione in 1405, immediately adopting provisions to render the fortress even more secure, fortifying its outer walls and widening the harbour.
Thanks to its strategical geographical location as a border outpost, Sirmione became a crucial defence and control garrison for the ruling nobles, retaining this function until the 16th century, when its role was taken up by Peschiera del Garda.