Venice’s Byzantine extravaganza is a shrine to the city’s patron saint. Sometime around 800AD, so the story goes, Venetian traders stole Mark’s body from Alexandria, where he had been bishop. They then wrapped the remains in pork, to deter Muslim guards from prying, and smuggled the prize back home. The saint soon became a symbol of the city’s power. The multi-domed Basilica di San Marco, the construction of which began in the 11th century as the Saint’s resting place, evokes the (myth?) of the Venetian republic.
In the main façade of the Basilica di San Marco, the combined effect of glittering mosaics, the domes and the double rows of arches are best appreciated from the centre of the piazza. Some claim that the Tetrarchs, the four figures depicting Byzantine emperors that can be seen on the South side of the Basilica, are actually infidels turned to stone while pilfering church treasures. In the Atrium, illiterate believers learned the Old Testament with these lively mosaic depictions of the story of the Creation, Noah and the flood, and other biblical narratives
As was customary in Cathedrals and churches of the time artworks and stained glass were not mere decoration but expressed mystical wisdom and theological teaching.
In the Galleria, make the climb for a close-up view of the atrium’s ceiling mosaics, for the bird’s-eye panorama of the piazza from the loggia, and to see the life- size gilded bronze horses taken to Venice from Constantinople after the Fourth Crusade.
Inside the church, in the main Sanctuary, Byzantine goldsmiths created the Pala d’Oro in the 10th Century to honour St. Mark’s final resting place.
From the right aisle of the church you can enter the rooms of the Treasury, an extraordinary collection of precious objects, from ancient Egyptian jewels, to icons, fine weapons, and a Relic of the True Cross. Many of these artifacts were glittering prizes brought back from the Crusades.