Explore the Inside of St. Mark's Basilica
Step inside St. Mark’s Basilica, a beautiful cathedral located on the eastern end of St. Mark’s Square in Venice. Established in 1094, this minor basilica, the resting place of St. Mark, is visited by religious patrons and those fascinated by its architecture and elaborate mosaics. The basilica has Renaissance, Byzantine, Venetian, and Islamic influences that contribute to its one-of-a-kind and stunning facade and interiors. On this page, you will learn about the basilica’s exquisite interiors including its important rooms, spatial elements, historic artifacts, and mosaics.
Top Things To See Inside St. Mark's Basilica
Within the basilica, you will find that every mosaic tells a story, and every element is imbued with history. Here are a few things to keep an eye out for inside St. Mark’s Basilica.
The Zen Chapel
The Zen Chapel, dedicated to Cardinal Giambattista Zen who died in 1501, acts as a southern entry hall to the church. Here you will find a bronze arched gate from the late 5th century brought to Venice from Constantinople. The cycle of mosaics on the barrel vaults of the hall depicts the life of St. Mark in 12 scenes and narrates the predestination or angelic prophecy that Mark would one day be buried in Venice and the church’s divine right to possess the relics of the saint. There are other chapels in the transepts of the basilica as well, including the Chapel of Saint Giovanni which depicts the life of St. John, and the Cappella della Madonna Nicopeia which features the famous Byzantine icon of the Madonna Nicopeia.
The chancel, located right before the apse at the furthest end of the church, is enclosed by a gothic altar screen that dates back to 1394. The intricately cast screen features silver and bronze statues of the Virgin Mary and St. Mark, along with the twelve disciples of Jesus. Behind this, you will find marble banisters that mark the beginning of the choir area that seated the Doge, aristocrats, and other civic leaders. Beyond the banisters is the presbytery, usually occupied by the clergy and presiding priests of the mass, in which the famous high altar Pala d’Oro is situated. On either side of the chancel are beautiful bronze reliefs of St. Mark, some depicting the miracles he performed.
The altarpiece of St. Mark’s Basilica is widely considered one of the finest works in Byzantine enamel. Meaning ‘the Gold Cloth’ the Pala d’Ora is a flat 3x2 meter sheet of gold and silver in a gilded gothic frame. It consists of 187 enamel plaques and a whopping 1927 gemstones that include pearls, garnets, emeralds, rubies, and amethyst. It is divided into two sections. The enamels in the first section were created in 1209 and portray the Arch Angel Michael in the middle with six events from the life of Christ around it. The bottom half consists of Christ as the focal point and various scenes from the life of St. Mark. First commissioned in 976 by Doge Pietro Orselo, the high altarpiece has seen Byzantine and Venetian additions and alterations through the centuries.
The intricately designed, gold-grounded mosaics are probably the first thing to grab your attention. There are 8000 mosaics lining the domes, archways, and vaults of the cathedral, and cover a surface area of 4,240 square meters. They have been described as essentially Byzantine in style developed over the 8 centuries of the basilica’s history, often depicting key biblical figures and the events of their lives. The mosaics also capture the history, ambitions, and faith of the city of Venice in a narrative style. Out of these the Christ Pantocrator in the apse, the Dome of the Creation in the narthex, and the Agony in the Garden are the most renowned.
The tessellated floor of the cathedral is made of marble and limestone, most of which are line mosaics that cover 2099 square meters of floor space. Complying with the principles of bipartition, the floor depicts the earthly zone while the vaults and ceilings depict the heavenly or divine zone. Arranged to create ethereal geometrical forms (opus sectile) decorated with floral and animal motifs (opus tesellatum), the floor reflects techniques brought from Constantinople and Byzantine Greece. The rectangular herringbone mosaic of the nave is not to be missed.
St. Marks Museum
The museum, on the first floor of the building, was established in the 19th century and houses various important objects of the church.. The most valuable artifacts include the Triumphal Quadriga or the Horses of Saint Mark, a set of four bronze horses that date back from classical antiquity around the 2nd or 3rd century AD. You will also find rare Persian carpets, ancient priestly vestments, manuscripts with the texts of St. Mark, and ancient mosaics removed during the church’s restoration in the 19th century. There are also woolen tapestries that depict episodes from the Passion of Christ and others in silk and silver about the life of St. Mark.
The Treasury of St. Mark’s Basilica is located in ancient rooms between the church and the Doge Palace and contains sacred objects and reliquaries. Many of the Byzantine metalworks and enamels that were looted during the Fourth Crusade of 1204 are kept here. Other artifacts are said to have been taken by Venetians from the churches, monasteries, and palaces of the ancient city of Constantinople during ‘The Sack of the City’.
The treasury holds what is said to be a fragment of the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified, an ampulla of the Precious Blood of Christ, and a relic of St. John the Baptist. In addition, it has 283 pieces of gold, silver, and ceramic artifacts including chalices and bowls of Byzantine and Islamic origin.
The Tomb of St. Mark
Located underneath the presbytery, is a crypt that is said to have contained the smuggled body of St. Mark. Around 1063, in order to create a new basilica, several old buildings of the church were transformed into an underground crypt to act as the tomb of St. Mark. The relics were later transferred to the high altar of the church in 1835. There is some controversy as to whether the relics really belonged to the saint with some historians suggesting that they are the relics of Alexander the Great. The inside of the crypt is atmospheric and supported by columns and arches centuries old.
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Frequently Asked Questions About the Inside of St. Mark's Basiica Tickets
A. Inside St. Mark's Basilica are stunning mosaics, domes and tessellated marble floors. It also contains a crypt, a treasury and a museum that visitors can view.
A. Yes, visitors can tour inside St. Mark's Basilica. You can either do this on your own or with the help of a tour guide.
A. Park Güell is spread across 12 hectares, which comprises the monumental and accompanying forest areas.
A. St. Mark's Basilica is 43 meters in height and occupies a floor space of 76.5 m long and 62.6 m wide.
A. Photography is permitted inside St. Mark's Basilica only for private use.
A. It is free to enter St. Mark's Basilica. However, skip-the-line tickets may help you get into the venue faster. Tickets will be necessary if you opt for tours as well.
A. St. Mark's Basilica is a must-see destination for those interested in Venetian and Byzantine architecture and history.
A. St. Mark's Basilica was designed by several architects and under the patronage of Doges of Venice over the course of its construction.
A. St. Mark's Basilica is located in Venice, Italy, on the eastern side of St. Mark's Square.
A. St. Mark's Basilica was built in the 11th century, but it has undergone many renovations , reconstructions and additions since then.