The St. Mark’s Basilica was constructed back in the 9th century. It was built to house the remains of St. Mark's corpse that was smuggled in from Egypt by Venetian merchants. The original building was torched to the ground in 932, but was rebuilt to become the magnificent structure that the world admires today. This new structure is made of layers of white marble that were procured from the Middle East. They say, the Basilica we see today is a cosmopolitan version of the original. It also has several elements from Byzantine architecture, making it remarkably exquisite. The structure is well known for having a Greek cross layout and for using a great amount of gold in each of its attractions. Due to this, the St. Mark's Basilica is often called the Church of Gold.
Designed in the shape of a Greek Cross, St. Mark’s Basilica has splendid marble inlays on the floor arranged in a geometric pattern along with animal designs. The interiors have 8000 sq.m of gilded mosaics over its walls and ceilings. It is said that the mosaic used is enough to cover over 1 and a half American football fields! Below are the highlights of the Basilica’s interiors you cannot miss!
The treasury at St. Mark's Basilica has one of the most special collections of Byzantine portable objects. They are made of precious enamel, metals and hardstone carvings. Most of these are from Constantinople, although there are several locally made artefacts as well.
The Pala d’Oro is an exquisite structure made of Byzantine enamel. It is globally recognised to be one of the most sophisticated and accomplished works, either of its sides decked with thousands of jewels and pearls.
Museo di San Marco
Also called St. Mark's Museum, it showcases several objects and artefacts that are historically important and play an important role in the heritage of the St. Mark's Basilica. The collection flaunts an incredible curation of liturgies, Persian carpets, broken fragments of mosaics( Look out for Tree of Jesse), golden tesserae, 78 bones of different Saints and many other relics.
Tomb of St. Mark
The corpse of St Mark was smuggled all the way from Egypt, by Venetian merchants. The main intent of constructing the Basilica was to serve as a tomb for St Mark. The crypt which is open for tours beyond the usual opening hours.
There are several transept chapels in St. Mark's Basilica. Some of the noteworthy ones are Cappella della Madonna dei Máscoli, Cappella della Madonna Nicopeia and Cappella di San Clemente. A guided tour around St. Mark’s Basilica will expose you to the details of all these chapels and more.
Mosaic and Marble Inlays
The mosaic used in copious amounts through St. Mark's Basilica is made from ground gold. It lights up the entire Basilica in a warm glow when sunlight creeps in. As for the marble inlays, the Basilica’s floor are flooded with marble designed in geometric patterns. These marble inlays cover over 2099 sq.m in hues of earth tones interspersed with animal and floral designs.
St. Mark's Basilica has 5 cupolas, all erected at the intersection over the arms of the Greek Cross structure. Each of these domes are decked with gracious amounts of golden mosaic and depicts specific scenarios - The Creation ( in the Narthex), The Pentecost ( the Western dome), The Ascension (Central Dome), The Life of Saint John (Northern dome) and The Life of Saint Leonard, Saint Nicholas, Clement and Blaise (Southern Dome). The best place to view these domes are from the galleries near the museum.
St. Mark's Square is always bustling with life. With every step, you’ll find something intriguing and interesting to see here. While you’re in the vicinity, check out the following attractions after exploring St. Mark’s Basilica.
The Doge’s Palace is one of the most important sites in northern Italy, a piece of Gothic architecture soaked in Venetian history. The Doge’s Palace was the place of residence of the Doges’ of Venice, the highest authority in the Republic of Venice for over thousand years. In 1923, the Doge’s Palace opened doors to public viewing and has been a museum run by the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia.
The Piazzetta of St. Mark's is a small open space adjacent to the main St. Mark’s Square. It connects the Southern side of the St. Mark’s Square to the lagoon. This Piazzetta is situated in between the Doge’s Palace and the Jacopo Sansovino Biblioteca, making for a nice walk overlooking the canals.
St. Mark’s Campanile is the bell tower of St. Mark's Basilica. Standing 99 metres high on Piazza San Marco., it is easily one of the most popular symbols in the city. The tower has a very simple structure with a square shaft made from flute brick and topped with a pyramidal spire at the top. You can purchase a ticket and go all the way up on a lift to witness aerial panoramas of Venice and the lagoons.
Nestled in the north side of the Piazza San Marco, the Clock Tower of Venice is an attractive slice of Renaissance architecture. The tower was built in the final decade of the 15th Century and is best known for its iconic archway that leads straight into Merceria Street.
One of the 11 remarkable civic museums in Venice, the Museo Correr spans a sizable portion of the southern end of St. Mark’s Square. It houses valuable works of art from various eras, for instance, Room 6 and 7 contain works from the period when the Doge was the highest authority in Venice. There are rooms dedicated to rare manuscripts from the 17th century, portraits of Venetian aristocrats, and topographical maps of 15th century explorers.
Modeled by Jacopo Sansovino in the mid 16th Century, the Libreria Sansoviniana is one of the few libraries that was primarily dedicated to housing ancient Greek and Latin codices. It is worldly famous for holding the best collection of classical texts. With 13,000 manuscripts and 24,055 Renaissance-era works besides the million other printed books, there is little doubt that the Libreria Sansoviniana ranks amongst the greatest libraries in the world.
There is an indescribable charm to exploring a legendary monument in a city like Venice all by yourself. You are free to savour and interpret the architectural and artistic masterpieces at your own pace. Interacting with locals and delving into the local culture is also an added benefit of embarking on a self-guided tour. However, exploring St. Mark’s Basilica without the guidance of a local expert might leave you clueless about all that you’re witnessing. However, if you’re one to do your research right and purchase an audio guide, nothing like a leisurely self guided visit!
On the other hand, a guided tour with a local expert by your side will take you through the best of the Basilica in the most methodical and time-worthy manner. Moreover, a combo walking tour that couples the nearby attractions along with St. Mark’s Basilica allows you to cover maximum ground on foot and explore the various wonders of Venice’s La Piazza. A guided tour is generally more constrained but definitely more efficient.
Both guided and self-guided tours are incredible ways to explore St. Mark’s Basilica but choice is yours to make depending on your budget and time constraints.
Q. Is photography permitted inside St. Mark’s Basilica?
A. Unfortunately no. Photography and filming is strictly prohibited inside the Basilica .
Q. Are there free visits to the St. Mark’s Basilica on selected days through the year?
A. Yes! From April to October, there are free daily guided tours (excluding Sundays and holidays) organized by the church administration. These tours depart at 11 AM from the atrium next to the center doorway, on the right side.
Q. Any recommended route for a self guided tour of St. Mark’s Basilica?
A. Absolutely! After entering the atrium, start from atop and climb up the stairs to the Loggia – Museo di San Marco (San Marco Museum). After exploring the museum, make your way down and amble through the Treasury, view the Pala d’Oro and sarcophagus of St. Mark. After this, follow the north aisle and exit the church. Once you’re outside, spend some time looking at the extraordinary exterior facades of St. Mark’s Basilica.
Q. Is there a constraint on the time one can spend inside the Basilica?
A. Yes. If you’re simply entering the Basilica for free ( not as a part of a tour) you are allowed to be inside only for 10 minutes. This is to regulate the dense crowds.
Q. Are there Skip the Line entry only tickets to the Basilica?
A. Yes. If you want to skip the excruciatingly long lines for the Basilica entry, you can purchase priority access tickets for 2 Euros. Note, this is only an entry ticket and does not include a guided tour or access to the Pala d’Oro altar, Museum, Treasury, Campanile and Crypt.
Q. Will I have to wait in any sort of queues with my Skip the Line tickets?
A. Unfortunately yes. Skip the Line tickets are so popular that a considerable amount of people do purchase them and the security lines do take up some time. However, if a skip the line ticket was to involve 15 minutes of waiting, a normal queue would take 45 minutes to an hour. Hence, skip the line tickets are still a better bet!