The Basilica of St. Mark (San Marco) is the most famous church in all of Venice, if not the most beautiful in all of Italy and our #1 pick for museums to visit while in Venice! The exterior of the Basilica was made of brick but was eventually covered with fantastic marble carvings, some much older than the Basilica itself.
Upon entering, visitors are greeted with gigantic arched doorways containing mosaics atop them, and the four infamous bronze horses. As a slight aside, Napolean coveted the bronze horses and took them with him to France in 1797, only to be returned to the Basilica in 1815. By the 1990s, the horses were stored in an upper gallery of the Basilica for protective reasons, and the current horses are replicas.
Near the entrance of the Basilica of San Marco is a chair from the 6th Century, thought to be that of St. Mark’s. The basilica’s floor plan resembles a cross, and inside the main entry at the floor is a red medallion which signifies the spot in 1177 where the Doge arranged a truce between Pope Alexander the III and the Holy Roman Emperor, Barbarossa.
There are three main chapels included within the Basilica of San Marco and they are the Treasury, the Museo (which is museum in English), and the Sanctuary. The Treasury is located to the right of the main alter. It is here where amazing relics are contained dating back to the 6th Century for which a great many were brought from the Orient. The relics include Byzantine images and icons, glass goblets and rock crystals.
Over 4 miles of mosaics, much of them gold, are brilliantly displayed within the Basilica and were developed over the course of 800 years. Many of the mosaics reveal notorious religious stories. The interior of the Basilica is adorned with Gothic, Byzantine and Romanesque art. The overall architecture is a combination of Byzantine, Islamic and Western European. Throughout centuries, great Italian and other European artists were quite naturally inspired to paint their masterpieces here.
The Marciano Museum is located within the Basilica of St. Mark and contains an original fragment of a bronze horse statue that stood in front of the museum at one time. The museum also offers a breath-taking view into the basilica as well as a balcony from where visitors can see the splendid square that is St. Mark’s.
Many visitors are drawn to the Basilica’s alter to view its Pala d’Oro (golden alter piece) and other Gothic-Byzantine jewelry.
The Pala d’Oro is considered to be one of the most priceless pieces in the world, adorned with bedazzling jewelry. Behind the high alter is St. Mark’s tomb which was smuggled back to Venice from Egypt within pork crates. (Egyptian officials bypassed inspection due to the uncleanliness of pork.) Indeed the Basilica of San Marco was built between 1063 and 1073 for the containment and adoration of St. Mark’s tomb. (Basilica means a church containing the relics of a saint.) The north-entrance mosaics further describe the story surrounding St. Mark’s transfer and his life.
Extra admission is required to enter the series of antiquated rooms of the Treasury which are located between the Basilica and Doge’s Palace.
You can visit the basilica’s official website here.
Note: Visitors must adhere to a specific dress code to be permitted into the Basilica: no skirts or shorts worn above the knee, sleeved shirts only and absolutely no exposed midsections. But of course the incredibly huge and awe-inspiring Basilica of San Marco is well worth heeding any mandatory dressing requests.
Getting there: See website above for more specific directions. The Basilica of St. Mark is located off the Grand Canal and overlooking St. Mark’s Square, adjoining Doge’s Palace.