Basilica di san Marco or St. Mark's Basilica is a magnificent example of Byzantine art. It is the shrine of the city's patron St. Mark. The Basilica and Piazza San Marco make Venice truly iconic in the world. The world knows the church as the Golden Cathedral for showcasing Venice's greatness. It is one of the best-known Venice churches and is easy to find on the Venice map.
Brief History of Basilica di San Marco
Together with a few other attractions, the Basilica is on the list of the Best in Venice. It has an exciting history, too. The Sanctuary bears the name of the Christian Saint St. Mark. Around 800 AD, two Venetian merchants, Buono da Malamocco and Rustico da Torcello stole the body of St. Mark from Alexandria. He had been a bishop there. They hid the body in a pork stew to dissuade the Ottoman guards from their usual checks. That's how they brought his remains to Venice. The Saint soon became a symbol of the city's power.
Construction of the church began in the 11th century. The idea was to build a resting place for the Saint's remains. The Basilica di san Marco you see today is the third structure built on the present site. The first structure was destroyed by fire, and the second was demolished to make way for the current one. The cathedral has five onion domes in Byzantine style and a Greek cross plan. The enormous structure contains marble from Syria, Egypt, and Palestine. As you enter the church, the beautiful play of colors in the artwork will amaze you. The colors are impressive, and so is the mix of Western and Eastern artistic influences. The combination of cultures makes this church globally unique and one of the Best in Venice. Since 1807, the Basilica has been the cathedral of Venice after taking the title from San Pietro di Castello.
Architecture of Basilica di San Marco
The facade features incredible golden colors, domes, and rows of double arches. It is best to appreciate them from the center of the square. At the entrance, admire the four bronze horses brought back to Venice after Napoleon took them to France. The real four horses, originally from Constantinople, are inside the museum. On the outside, you will find the four tetrarchs, two pairs of red porphyry statues about 1,3-meter-long. The Venetians believe these statues are thieves petrified by St. Mark for stealing 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 1660 portal to the right, the theme is the same. In the narthex, the oldest mosaic in the Basilica, The Apostles with the Madonna. Then, head to the medieval atrium. The Dome of Genesis depicts the separation of the heavens and the waters. Mosaics of the Last Judgment cover the vault of the atrium and continue the mosaic depicting the Apocalypse.
Pala d'Oro and the Treasury
In the center of the Basilica, you will find the magnificent Ascension Dome, a marvel depicting the Old Testament. You can admire the deeds of St. Mark, kept in the vault next to the golden Dome of the Prophets. Behind, there is the high altar with the remains of St. Mark. And don't skip Pala d'Oro, the two-square-meter gilded and silvered antependium. It looks stunning with the emeralds, sapphires, and other gems. The golden splendor and refinement of the biblical figures carved between 976 and 1209 are striking. Another exciting part of the Basilica is the Treasury. It keeps the sacred bones of various saints and the riches of the Crusades. There are also special items like 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.
Other Attractions in the Area
St. Mark's Square and its Basilica are must-see stops on your visit to Venice. Take your time to explore the Basilica, as there are many things to see, and most are free of charge. But don't forget to include the Museum, the Pala d'Oro, and the Treasury, which require a fee. You can also book a guided tour online. The position of the Basilica on the Venice map is superb. In the neighborhood of San Marco, you will also find the Doge's Palace, Museo Correr, and the Bridge of Sighs. You can have lunch or a cappuccino at Cafe Florian or explore the nearby bars and shops. And if you'd like to visit other churches, try San Zaccaria, San Moise, or Chiesa della Pieta.