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Saint Mark's Basilica
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrSt Mark's Basilica is renowned for its glimmering mosaics, its exquisite golden altar with precious gems, and bronze horses. Located just off the Grand Canal, the gleaming basilica dominates Piazza San Marco .
The basilica is a cathedral, but has not always been so; it was the Doge's personal chapel, linking its religious function to the political life of the city until it became the seat of the Archbishop of Venice in 1807.
Its architecture is a mixture of Byzantine, Romanesque, and Renaissance styles declaring the wealth of Venice over centuries. Built on a plan of a Greek cross, its Eastern appearance is enhanced by golden mosaics, originally created by craftsmen from the Byzantine court at Ravenna.
The narthex which is decorated with 13th-century mosaics of Old Testament scenes, an architectural feature common to Byzantine churches, wraps around the west end of the basilica.
History of the BasilicaThe word “basilica” denotes the fact that a church houses the remains of a saint. The church was begun in 828 when the body of St Mark was stolen, smuggled by merchants from Egypt and returned to Venice. A legend of that time said that an angel had appeared to Mark in a vision, telling him he would be laid to rest in Venice. The church burnt down in 976 and was later rebuilt in 978. The construction of mosaics was initially begun in 1071, and has continued off and on for several centuries. In 1075, the Doge Domenico Selvo adopted a law which forced every sailor to bring a precious jewel in honor of St. Mark upon his return. This is the origin of the luxurious decoration with different materials and jewelry from all over Europe. The present basilica is the third on the site. It was built mainly between 1063 and 1094, although the work of decoration continued until the 16th century. The church became Venice's cathedral in 1807.
What to See
Interior MosaicsSt. Mark’s Basilica is probably best known for its spectacular mosaics. The five cupolas are adorned with amazing Byzantine mosaics, which date from the 11th to the 13th centuries. The earliest mosaics, bearing the graceful lines of high Byzantine art, are in the first dome of the interior, the Dome of the Pentecost, and date from the 12th century. Be sure not to miss Christ, the Virgin, and St Mark in the west dome, above the door, the Crucifixion and Resurrection in the central dome and Religion of Christ Foretold by the Prophets in the east dome. The floor, often overlooked, are a beautiful 12th-century mixture of mosaic and marble in geometric patterns and animal designs.
Tomb of Saint MarkAt the heart of St Mark's Basilica, the main altar has a beautiful ciborium, supported by alabaster columns of the 12th century, under which are contained the relics of St. Mark.
Pala d'OroThe Pala D’oro, located behind the high altar of St. Mark’s Basilica, is a great example of fine Byzantine art. It was made in Constantinople in 976 on the orders of Doge Pietro Orseolo I, and was further enriched in later years with emeralds, pearls, rubies, sapphires, and topaz, topped off with a Gothic frame and resetting in 1345.
TreasuryThe Treasury, situated to the right of the main altar, boasts an interesting collection of religious art objects and an amazing collections of jewels from around the world. The highlights are a 12th century Byzantine incense burner in the shape of a domed church, and a gilded silver Gospel cover from Aquileia, also made in the 12th century.
Saint Mark's MuseumThe museum is accessible from just inside the church’s front doors, so you can visit either at the beginning or end of your visit to the church. The museum contains a variety of exhibits, including Persian carpets, paintings, illuminated manuscripts, tapestries, and ancient mosaics. However, the real highlight are the four original bronze horses stolen from Egypt and brought to Rome, then brought to Constantinople, then to Venice by crusaders, then to Paris by Napoleon, and finally back to Venice when Napoleon was defeated.
VisitingAdmission to the basilica is free, but you'll have to pay entrance fees during holidays or if visiting special parts of the basilica complex, such as the St. Mark's Museum, Pala d'Oro, and the Treasury. To skip the line at the basilica entrance, you can reserve your arrival for a small fee on the website (from April 1 through October 31). St. Mark’s Basilica is open from 9:45 AM to 17:00 PM Monday through Saturday and 14:00 PM 17:00 PM on Sundays. Backpacks or large purses are also not allowed, so bring a small bag.
Getting thereLocated on St Mark's Square, the church is reachable on foot and easy to find by following the signs for Piazza San Marco. The nearest vaporetto stops at Vallaresso/S. Marco.
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Author: Ayda. Last updated: Feb 17, 2015