A favorite among the religious and political domains of Venice, St. Mark’s Basilica is a 1000-year-old city legacy. The Basilica di San Marco in Italian or otherwise known as the “church of gold” is today renowned around the globe for its beautiful mosaic work and holds the remains of St. Mark that were transported from Alexandria, Egypt.
Read on to uncover the fascinating history of St. Mark’s Basilica and why you must visit this architectural sensation!
The Basilica di San Marco has a fascinating origin story! It was originally built to house the relics of a saint, which had been brought to Venice by traders in a barrel filled with pork after being secretly taken from Egypt. During a treacherous storm that threatened to overturn the ship, the saint's ghost appeared to guide the sailors to lower the sails, saving them from impending disaster. As a testament to this miraculous event, a fresco depicting the supernatural intervention was made, and you can see this inside the basilica.
Excavations have shown that St. Mark's Basilica has always been of cruciform structure with a central dome that was likely built of wood, even though the original edifice was long believed to be rectangular. The Venetian traders' growing economic influence in the capital, as well as the area's political ties to Byzantium, were symbolized by this significant shift from the customary architectural style of a rectangular form to a centered Byzantine structure. It is believed that the old church's sole intact elements are the foundations and lower reaches of several of the main walls.
In 976 AD, when the Doge was subject to a populist uprising, a furious mob set fire to the castrum in an attempt to remove him, and the fire quickly spread to the adjoining church, severely injuring it. The general assembly had to find another location for the ceremony to elect Pietro I Orseolo as the next Doge and the event was shifted to the cathedral of San Pietro di Castello. The wooden parts had been burned, but the supports and walls were mostly still standing.
A strong feeling of community propelled some Italian towns to start repairing large churches around the middle of the eleventh century. Under the tutelage of Contarini, St. Mark's was greatly expanded and reconstructed in 1063 AD, resulting in a completely different final structure. In particular, the domes stood out since they had been converted from their original wood construction to brick. The cathedral's interiors and exteriors were later covered in marble and precious stones and embellished with reliefs, columns, and statues. Several of these ornamental elements were from ancient buildings.
Domenico Contarini was the 30th Doge of Venice and a liberal builder of churches and monasteries. He began the restoration work of St. Mark’s Basilica just before his death in 1071. In the course of his rule, the Venetians reclaimed Zadar (in modern-day Croatia) and a portion of Dalmatia that had been forfeited to the Kingdom of Croatia a few decades back. His other notable work includes the San Nicolò di Lido in Lido di Venezia. Additionally, the Venetian naval fleet was significantly expanded, the economy flourished, and the Republic of Venice regained its dominance over a large portion of the Mediterranean Sea.
St. Mark’s Basilica is applauded for its elegant and pure architecture which hasn’t transformed significantly since the 11th century. The central dome is braced on four pillars by spandrels and huge vaults. The west façade of the basilica is split into domes, lower register, and upper register. Five round-arched entrances are surrounded by polychrome marble columns in the lower register. An interesting fact to note here is that Venetians used ingenious tactics to create an impression of massive and intimidating structures. The five large domes of St. Mark's Basilica are made of wood covered with lead.
The basilica comprises around 500 columns and capitals, the majority of which date from the sixth to eleventh centuries. The whole 12th-century marble floor is covered in geometric designs and animal-themed embellishments. Almost 8,000 square meters of vibrant mosaics are used to adorn the top levels. Most of these mosaics have gold glass tesserae, which gives a glittering appearance.
St. Mark’s Basilica is roughly 1100 years old.
The St. Mark’s Basilica is in Venice, Italy.
St. Mark’s Basilica is called the “church of gold” making it extremely famous among travelers to enjoy the mosaic art and other elements from the ancient era to the 19th century.
Domenico Contarini, the 30th Doge of Venice was involved in building St. Mark’s Basilica.
The architectural style of St. Mark’s Basilica is Byzantine.
The tickets to St. Mark’s Basilica starts at €20.50. You can purchase them online here and save the hassle of standing in a long queue.
Yes, guided tours are available explaining St. Mark’s Basilica’s History.
The story of how Venetian traders stole the remains of Saint Mark is an interesting fact about St. Mark’s Basilica’s history.
Yes, St. Mark’s Basilica is worth a visit for its exquisite architecture and splendid history.
Yes, you can visit Doge’s Palace along with St. Mark’s Basilica as they are merely eighty meters apart. There are combined tickets available online which cover both attractions.