St Mark's Basilica or the Basilica di San Marco in local language, is perhaps the most visited tourist destination in Venice. This gorgeous cathedral is special to Venetians and a must-visit place for city guests. What used to be the center of the city's public and religious life is now one of the best-known Venice Churches on the Venice map.
Getting in the church
The entrance is free if you want to wander around some parts of the building. Yet, the waiting lines can be extremely long, so we recommend booking a guided tour or getting "skip-the-line" tickets. The best time to visit Basilica di San Marco is during the low season - from October through April.
History & architecture of St Mark’s Basilica
Did you know that St Mark’s Basilica is the oldest church in Venice? It isn't the biggest, too, as that title goes to Santi Giovanni e Paolo. But that doesn't make it less impressive!
The remarkable St Mark's Basilica is built on a Greek cross plan. It is the third church to stand on this site, crowned with five massive domes. The first one, built in the 9th century, was destroyed by fire. The second structure was demolished in the 11th century to make way for a more spectacular church. Designed by an unknown architect, it was meant to reflect the growing power of the Republic. The current plan dates back to 1063 and takes inspiration from the Constantinople Church of the Apostles.
Until 1807, the church St Mark's Basilica served as the Doge's private chapel for various state ceremonies. It succeeded St. Peter's and became the Cathedral of Venice. Basilica di San Marco is where the Doge presented himself after his election. Heads of state, popes, royalty, and ambassadors visited the cathedral. Even sea captains came here to pray before embarking on their epic journeys.
The architecture is a fascinating mix of Byzantine, Romanesque, and Islamic influences. There are some Gothic elements, too. There is also an impressive 98.6-meter-high bell tower (St. Mark's Campanile) - a genuine landmark of Venice. The city's development and history influenced the design in many ways. The church St. Mark's Basilica had to showcase the public's wealth and power. So, the architects embellished the brick facades and walls with marbles and precious stones. Many of the church's elements, like monuments or sculptures, came from the churches and palaces of Constantinople.
Inside The Church
Exciting and mysterious, illuminated by splendid mosaics, St. Mark's Basilica is unique.
There are more than 8000 square meters of mosaics. Most of them are from real gold and belong to the 13th century. Some were based on drawings from Renaissance painters like Paolo Veronese, Tintoretto, or Titian. Check out Basilica's oldest Mosaics - Apostles with Madonna. There are also 500 columns in St Mark’s Basilica, some dating back to the 3d century, while others between the 6th and 11th centuries.
Don't miss the Basilica's Sacred Treasure. It is a selection of the most important relics that Venetians acquired over the centuries. It contains 283 valuable pieces in gold, silver, and glass. And an absolute must-see item is the stunning Pala d'Oro. It is located just beyond the main altar and represents two square meters of gold studded with thousands of gems. There are also many other valuable art pieces and an entire museum inside.
We could tell you all about it, but it's best to visit and see it with your own eyes.
Things to do in the area
You will have no problem finding the church as it's the main attraction on St. Mark's Square. The square is a part of San Marco, the most popular neighborhood in Venice. When visiting the Basilica, you can also check out another must-visit place - the Doge’s Palace or Palazzo Ducale. Stroll on Piazza San Marco and stop for a cappuccino at Caffè Florian, the oldest European café.
If you get hungry, grab a fancy lunch at Quadri, one of the most well-known restaurants in Venice. And if you want to learn more about the history of Venice, don’t miss Museo Correr, located on the square. A romantic Bridge of Sighs is not far from St Mark's Basilica and is a perfect place for a memorable photo. There are also a few other prominent Venice churches nearby, like Chiesa della Pieta, Basilica del Santi Giovanni e Paolo, and Santa Maria Maddalena.