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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Founded: 1063-1093
Category: Religious sites in Italy

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4.7/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Nadezda Milovanovic (2 years ago)
Beautiful mosaics that cover the inside of the church, as well as the golden altar that represents the masterpiece of that period, speak of the importance, power and wealth of its builders. In the basilica are visible various architectural styles that adorn the interior and exterior of the church. It is located in the center of St Mark's Square and can be considered as the most important point of Venice for a reason.
Graham Kelly (2 years ago)
Mosaics are very impressive as are the horses. Entry is free though worth paying 5€ for entry to museum and terrace (roof). Only disappointment was very strict on no photography of any kind. So wanted to take lots of pics but it's a place of worship so I understand.
Alexandra Orosfoian (2 years ago)
Impressive! Theres not many other word to describe it. The construction started in year 800! It's got an impressive history. The entrance is free, and it was not busy at all during March when we were there. The walk through Venice from the train station to the Basilica is also very nice. An absolutely must when in Venice
Richard Havell (2 years ago)
Breathtaking ceiling mosaics, decorations, and intricate geometric marble patterns. Going to the museum (entrance is after you walk through the cathedral) is highly recommended. It's cheap, you see the cathedral from the upper terraces, you can go outside over the front of the cathedral to get a great view of the square, and you can see the original set four of ancient bronze horses up close. Backpacks aren't allowed inside, but the attendant at the front will politely point you towards the free cloakroom a couple of minutes away.
Adriana Perez (2 years ago)
Such a grandiose cathedral, filled with incredible religious art, impressive architecture and just an all around amazing vibe. Its located in the center of Piazza San Marco and it could easily be considered the focal point of the city of Venice. It is well worth a visit with ample time to appreciate the beauty of it. It costs 5 euro to get in and it is money well spent. Pictures are not allowed inside and although I did noticed a lot of people sneaking in a few shots, there are tons of watch guards that would often yell "no pictures!", so beware of that. Strongly recommended.
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