St Mark's Basilica is a magnificent example of Byzantine art, the shrine of its patron saint St Mark. The Basilica and its Piazza are one of the icons of Venice in the world. The church is known to the world as the 'Golden Cathedral', due to the ostentatious pomp and circumstance of Venice's greatness. The Sanctuary is named after the Christian saint St Mark. It is said that around 800 AD two Venetian merchants, Buono da Malamocco and Rustico da Torcello, stole the body of St Mark from Alexandria, where he had been a bishop. They hid the body in a pork stew, to dissuade the Ottoman guards from their usual checks, and stole his remains to Venice. The Saint soon became a symbol of the city's power. The Basilica with its majestic domes recalls the splendour of the Venetian Republic. Construction of the Church began in the 11th century as a resting place for the Saint's remains. The Basilica has been the cathedral of Venice since 1807 when it took the title from San Pietro di Castello.
The Basilica you will see is the third structure in chronological order built on the present site. The first structure was destroyed by fire and the second was demolished to make way for the present one. The Cathedral has five onion domes in Byzantine style with a Greek cross plan. The huge structure is adorned with marble from Syria, Egypt, Palestine and the victories against Genoa. When you enter the church you will be amazed by the beautiful play of colours in the artwork. It is not only the colours of the light that blend, but also Western and Eastern artistic influences. This syncretism makes this church unique in the world.
The church façade with its golden colours, domes and rows of double arches are best appreciated from the centre of the square. As you approach the entrance of the church you can admire the four bronze horses brought back to Venice after they were stolen by Napoleon. The real four horses originally from Constantinople are now in the internal museum. On the outside of the Basilica you will find the four tetrarchs, two pairs of red porphyry statues of about 1 metre and 30 cm. The Venetians think these statues are thieves who were petrified by St Mark's in order to steal from the church.
The entrances take you through the central portal, under a triple arch adorned with Egyptian purple columns. In the portal to the left you will find lunette mosaics dated 1270 with the remains of the Saint, on the portal to the right from 1660, the theme is repeated. In the narthex you will find the oldest mosaic in the basilica: The Apostles with the Madonna. In the medieval atrium you will find the Dome of Genesis, which depicts the separation of the heavens and the waters with surprising abstract motifs. Mosaics of the Last Judgement cover the vault of the atrium and continue the mosaic depicting the Apocalypse.
In the central part of the Basilica you will find the magnificent Ascension Dome, a marvel depicting the Old Testament. In the central altar you will admire the deeds of St Mark in the vault next to the majestic golden Dome of the Prophets. Behind the high altar containing the remains of St Mark's patron saint you will find the two-square-metre Pala d'Oro, a large gilded and silvered antependium with emeralds, sapphires and other gems. The golden splendour and refinement of the biblical figures carved between 976 and 1209 are striking.
In addition to the sacred bones of various saints and the riches of the Crusades, the Treasury includes a crystal jug that belonged to Caliph Al Aziz Billah. The gilded Archangel Gabriel is also a priceless oriental work of art dating from around 1200.
St Mark's Square and its Basilica are mandatory stops on your visit to Venice. The Basilica takes a long time to visit. We suggest that you integrate the visit to the Basilica, which is completely free of charge, with the Museum, the Pala d'Oro and the Treasury, the only areas that require a fee. We recommend that you take the help of a tourist guide for your visit to St Mark's Basilica.