“St. Mark is distinctly the masterpiece at Venice. In beauty and richness, for its size, it is perhaps unsurpassed. The exterior, as well the interior, are superb.”
— from “Diary of a European Trip” by August Kohn (1868–1930, South Carolinian journalist)
The Basilica di San Marco follows the plan of the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople. The layout of San Marco is a Greek cross, with four arms of equal length radiating from the intersection of the arms. Five 11th-century, copper-clad domes—one over each arm and one over the center where the two arms cross—form the church’s roof.
The five-dome plan is a common Orthodox arrangement. The use of this feature should not come as a surprise. Venice was officially part of the Eastern Empire until AD 811; and once it broke those bonds, it continued extensive trade with Byzantium. The center and largest dome represents Christ; the smaller domes represent the Four Apostles..
“Over the chief entrance are four horses in bronze—these are represented in a prancing attitude—which were brought from Constantinople by the Venetians. They were removed to Paris by Napoleon the First, but restored in 1815.”
—from “A diary of a Three Months’ Tour on the Continent in 1877” diary entry 12.April, by Alexander Kilgour
These four life-size horses are admired by many, and believed to be among Europe’s finest artistic creations. They are exquisite artifacts! Their biography has been shaped by some of Europe’s significant historical events.
The horses are made of copper, but often referred to as bronzes. Some argue for a Roman origin, some for Greek one. The original horses were brought to Venice in 1254; the put on show at the front façade of the basilica, above the central portal. The horses were brought inside the church in the 1980s to keep them safe from increasing amounts of air pollution and replaced with replicas.
The four horses were sent to Venice from Constantinople. It is not clear where the horses stood in the Byzantine capital. In the eighth century it is known that several monuments in Constantinople included horses; any of these could be the same horses now at St Mark’s. One popular suggestion for the location is the hippodrome.
After the sack of Constantinople, Enrico Dandolo, leader of the Venetian forces in the 1204 Fourth Crusade, the horses were sent to Venice. These exquisite artifacts were the spoils of war. In 1797 once again, they were looted. This time by Napoleon, when he accomplished what no other power could in 1,000 years; he conquered the Most Serene Republic of Venice. Just as Roman Emperors celebrated their victories, the horses, along with other plundered goods, were paraded before the citizens of Paris. Napoleon ordered the building of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, to mark the victories of la Grande Armée. The horses and a specially cast chariot, forming a victory quadriga, were set atop of the arch.
The horses were in Paris for a short time. When Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo the Bourbon Dynasty was returned to power; and in 1814 the horses were given to the Austrians, who were allowed to keep many territories in Italy, including Venice and the Veneto. The horses were brought home to Venice.
“Wherever the hand of the restorer has been laid all semblance of beauty has vanished; which is a sad fact, considering that the external loveliness of St. Mark’s has been for ages less impressive only than that of the still comparatively uninjured interior.”
—from “Italian Hours” 1909 by Henry James (1843-1916)
Yes, it is true that Basilica di San Marco is regularly, in part, under some scaffolding to restore, preserve, repair, keep up this final resting place for San Marco.
These five marble plaques are part of the church’s southern wall. They are near to Porta della Carta, once the principle entrance, now the exit of Palazzo Ducale. Two of them show living creatures, even if griffins are fantastical ones. The other three show geometric designs.
I am guessing they are from the Ancient World. Along with other elements of this external wall, they appear as a hodgepodge collection of building materials brought together to create the wall.
I would say, like so many parts of Venice, the origin, dates and meaning of these plaques is a mystery.
Is number one tourist sights in Venice where every ones meet. A visit to Saint Mark's Basilica is a must for a first-time tourist to Venice, and indeed the church holds so many precious artworks and relics that subsequent visits are recommended
Admission to the Basilica is free, but visitors should expect to pay entrance fees during holidays or to special parts of the basilica complex, such as the St. Mark's museum, Pala d'Oro, and the Treasury
The Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark and commonly known as Saint Mark's Basilica is the main attraction of the Piazza San Marco.
It is the most famous of the city's churches and one of the best known examples of Byzantine architecture.
For its opulent design, gilded Byzantine mosaics, and its status as a symbol of Venetian wealth and power, from the 11th century on the building has been known by the nickname Chiesa d'Oro (Church of gold).
You can watch my 2 min 44 sec Video Venice San Marco out of my Youtube channel or here on VT.
I love visiting religious attractions when I travel. having seen quite a bit while in Venice, I decided to visit the Basilica of San Marco. It is without a doubt a work of art and an architectural achievement. It was elating to know that reverence is still upheld and whether or not you are a visitor, dress code is strictly upheld. No body parts showing no matter the design of your dress. Your arms and legs have to be fully dressed.
Located in the heart of Venice near the Piazza San Marco it is the pride of the city and one can see why once you approach it. The Byzantine architecture is unmistakable; in the 11th century it was named the church of gold because of its opulence. It reminded me of the Pantheon in Rome.
The Bell tower also known as the 'campanile' is one of the churches most prominent features. It assumed its present appearance in 1514 after the reconstruction to the extension was finished. Thereafter, it remained virtually unaltered until it suddenly collapsed in 1902 but was quickly rebuilt the way it was. Apparently the Italians believe in the philosophy of "Com'era, dov'era" which translates to "how it was, where it was". Thus the current feature and a feast was held when it was finally reopened in 1912; the feat of Saint Mark.
It gets quite crowded seeing us it is one of the attractions, but also because Venice is incredibly busy, visited my millions each year.
Beat the crowded long entry line. Reserve a time to visit the Basilica:
Purchase a reserved entry day and time to the Basilica at a cost of €1 per person and get privileged access to St Mark’s Cathedral and avoid the long queue (average queuing time is 45 minutes). This reservation will allow you to enter within a 15 minute window of your chosen time. There is a separate entry gate for reserved entry ticket holders. The reservation service is available 7 months of the year, from April1 to 31 October. Can be booked online up to 10 minutes before the chosen time for the visit. Soooo easy and sooo much better than the long wait for normal entry.
Additionally, be aware that backpacks are not allowed in the Basilica and you must check any bags before entering. There is a free place to do this about 50 yards from the entrance, just ask for directions.
The bronze horses that adorn St Marks Basilica are replicas of the originals that were brought to Venice from Constantinople in 1258.
Far from being a gift from the grateful citizens of Constantinople, these horses were part of the loot ordered back by the Venetian Doge. Why? This was during the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204). Pope Innocent had been trying to find a way to dissipate the power of Frederick the German Emperor in what amounted to the Papacy's first real interference in political affairs. This of course became a long term pattern over the years.
The Crusaders approached the Venetians and Genoans about transporting Crusaders to the Holy Land. The Venetians agreed, at first glance making it seem like a purely commercial venture. When the Crusaders showed up with far fewer men than expected the Venetians demanded payment in full, which was not available. The long and short of it, the Venetians, having been expelled from Constantinople in 1182, would reap great commercial gain from taking ownership of the center of the Byzantine empire. Costantinople was shamefully sacked and plundered. A Latin Empire was eventually established, controlled by Venice.
So, the horses were really part of this loot . What you see today are replicas of the originals which are inside the Basilica Museum.
St Mark's Basilica is one of the best known sights in Venice and this is probably at least partly deserved. The outside of the basilica is however more impressive than the inside. It's difficult to remain unimpressed by what may be one of the world's most impressive and beautiful medieval buildings.
Construction of the basilica began in 832 to house the body of St Mark which had been pinched from Alexandria by the Venetians, although the current basilica is actually teh 3rd one on the site and was started in 1094. For nearly the next 1000 years it served as the private chapel of the Doge as head of state of the Venetian Republic. It only became the seat of the patriarch and Venice's cathedral when Napolean seized control in the early 19th century.
The beautiful mosaics and romanesque carvings should be admired for some time before taking the plunge and going inside. Also before you go inside you have to leave any bags in a cloakroom which is in a street just of the square. Look for the signs to find it. You can leave your bag here for 1 hour free of charge.
When you go inside you see that the basilica has some very attarctive mosaics, but in my opinion not as good as those outside. There is something that makes the place look much more like an Orthodox church than a normal catholic one, and when you see the treasury and realise that almost everything (including the marble of the beautiful outside) was stolen from Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul.
The treasury and pala d'Oro had a very minimal entry charge of (I think) €3 but entry to the rest of the Basilica is free and this is fairly unique amongst Venice's expensive attractions.
Photography is not allowed inside, but you can get some excellent pictures of the exterior.
While we waited for our room to be prepared, we decided to start exploring the city. So we hopped on the vaparetto and head over to Saint Mark's Cathedral (Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco). Yes you have seen this site in many movies and it's one of the things that comes to mind when you think of Italy, but being there is a totally different and wonderful experience. Yes, there were many people walking around, lots of vendors selling things and it was hot for sure, but well worth all of that.
VAPORETTA SAN MARCO VALLARESSO OR SAN ZACCARIA
Saint Marks Basilica sits proudly at the head of the Piazza, watching over the thousands of bodies milling through the square, both human and pigeons!
Originally a wooden chapel, put together in a hurry in 828, as a place to protect St Marks relics, which had been stolen from Alexandria. It later burned down during the insurrection of 976. Quickly, it was rebuilt, but again was demolished in 1063 on the orders of Doge Domenico Contarini, who considered that a restyle was needed to befit its superior position. He challenged the building of the most beautiful chapel ever seen. Merchants were ordered to return with some embellishment from their travels, and each doge was responsible for donating large sums of money.
So, the monument seen today is mainly the result of the reconstruction carried out between 1063-1094.
The opulent marble clad Basilica understandably draws crowds from around the world to queue for the chance to have visited one of the worlds 'Must See's' and tick it off their list.
My first visit to Venice as a day trip from Lake Como included a hurried visit - I have a vague memory of the gold altar and nothing more.
On subsequent visits I had no desire to join the long queues to gain entrance, and less so to view while being jostled by the crowds.
I was quite happy, especially on crisp December days to view the mosaiced frescoes and other features from the Piazza.
However, Christmas Eve 2008, I entered San Marco at around 2300hours, after queueing for a short while and managed to squeeze into a space at the back, to witness Midnight Mass. I'm not particularly religious, but wanted to experience San Marco as a place of worship and celebration, rather than as 'a museum'
I had been quite shocked the previous year, to witness some queueing for midnight mass, sporting Father Christmas hats and reindeer antlers - I think I'd have been less offended if they were sporting hot pants and skimpy vest tops!
This time the fancy dress wasn't in evidence, but people were photographing with flashes during the service. I'm afraid that I took a couple of shots (without flash).
From my vantage point, I was transfixed by the Byzantine style golden domed cupolas above with their mosaics, and was stunned at just after midnight when the lights were switched on, showing the Basilica in its full glory. As the bells chimed out, it was 'quite a moment'.
The following year, I found myself here again. This time I stayed for the full service. When it ended there was a chance to walk around and take photos. This time, it was the mosaic flooring that had me mesmorised, with the various intricate patterns.
I only saw a tiny amount of its treasures, but one day, I'll hopefully return to look in depth -Just as long as I don't have to queue or share the experience with hoards of people!
Opening Hours (Tourists)
Monday - Saturday 09.30 - 17.30 Sunday 14.00 - 16.00 (Loggia dei Cavalli is open Sunday morning.
Located in the square where everybody goes, the cathedral is, of course, a must see. A fabulous example of byzantine art, it deserves a detailed observation either of its beautiful exterior either of its rich interior.
Permanently crowded, the observation is not easy, but its possible to admire the rich combination of stones (and gold) that makes each square inch a piece of art.
The basilica was built in 1063 on an eariler church's foundations and walls and played a vital role in the Venetian Empire and the city itself over a number of centuries. The design was based on the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles in Constantinople and other churches with Greek and Byzantium designs of that era. The church has an ancient chapel where St. Mark the Evangelist is kept. When we visited Venice we didn't go inside to look around becuase the long queues were off putting.
You can find out further information on their website.
St. Mark's Basilica, or Basilica di San Marco, is Venice's most famous church. It dates back to the 9th century, when a smaller chapel was built next to the Palazzo Ducale to house the holy relics of St. Mark; at that time, the basilica served as the doges' private place of worship, a tradition that would last until the beginning of the 19th century. The current church was built for the most part during the 11th century, although additions were made until well into the 13th century. The basilica is one of the world's nicest examples of Byzantine architecture, mostly thanks to the numerous golden mosaics that can be found both on its remarkable facade and inside the church.
Entrance to St. Mark's Basilica is free, and there's a little trick if you don't want to wait in line: drop off your backpack (you can't bring it inside anyways), purse or coat at the Ateneo San Basso, which is located on a small street next to the Piazzetta dei Leoncini (on the north side of the basilica, you'll see the sign). They will hold it for you free of charge for one hour and give you a special pass that allows you to skip the entire line! I thought 1h was sufficient to visit the basilica, especially since it can get pretty crowded and you're sort of forced to move along. It's also possible to visit St. Mark's museum (4 Euros), the treasury (3 Euros), and the high altar with its "Pala d'Oro" (2 Euros). We chose to visit St. Mark's museum, mostly because it's located on the upper level of the basilica so you get a really nice view of the richly decorated nave. The museum includes an interesting collection of religious art pieces, including the original group of bronze sculptures known as "St. Mark's Horses" that probably date back to the 4th century BC. The museum also gives access to a small outside terrace where you can enjoy great views of Piazza San Marco. Of course, no visit to the basilica would be complete without taking the time to admire its exterior - among other things, don't miss the Tetrachs sculptures that were brought back from Constantinople at the time of the Fourth Cruisade.
As it was impossible to get inside because of the long lines in this month of July I had a good look at the cupolas as seen from the Palazzo Ducale. There are indeed good views especially from the second floor of the eastern wing as well as from the inner courtyard "Cortillo".
The Greek cross plan of the Basilica is topped by five cupolas which are a symbol of God's presence. Each cupola rests on four great vaults whose weight is borne by four pillars. The central cupola is that of the Ascension, the others are the Pentecost over the nave, the Prophets over the presbytery (under restoration), the St. John over the north arm (not visible on my photo) and the St. Leonard over the south arm.
Beneath the cupolas, on the north side of the courtyard of the Doge's Palace, stands that most remarkable arch called "Androne Foscari" commissioned by this Doge. I it is a triumphal archway linked to the Porta della Carta by which visitors presently leave the Palace. The small marble facade with clock is beautiful. It is difficult to distinguish what belongs to the Basilica and what belongs to the Palazzo Ducale.
It's certainly one of my favoured spots at San Marco.