St Mark's Basilica

Pala d'Oro - The Crown Jewel of St. Mark's Basilica

What is Pala d'Oro?

Pala d'Oro

The Pala d'Oro is a highly ornate altarpiece in St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, Italy. The golden altarpiece is studded with 1,300 pearls, 300 emeralds, 300 sapphires, 400 garnets, 100 amethysts, rubies, and topazes, making it the most precious Byzantine altarpiece. The altar depicts Biblical scenes like the enthroned Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus and Christ Pantocrator. Visitors to St. Mark's Basilica can view the Pala d'Oro and appreciate its exceptional beauty and historical significance.

Pala d'Oro Quick Facts

St. Mark's Basilica, Venice, Italy
  • Official name: Pala d'Oro
  • Location: St. Mark's Basilica, Venice, Italy
  • Address: Via delle Medaglie d'Oro, 57, 17031 Albenga SV, Italy
  • Timings: Open from 9:30 AM to 5:15 PM. On Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, it is open from 2 PM to 5:15 PM.
  • Creation: Believed to have been created in the 10th century
  • Artistic style: Byzantine art
  • Materials: Made of gold, silver, and thousands of precious gems such as pearls, emeralds, sapphires, and rubies
  • Historical Significance: Considered a masterpiece of Byzantine art
  • Depiction: Consists of multiple panels depicting biblical scenes

Why Visit Pala d'Oro?

  • Historical significance: The Pala d'Oro dates back to 916 AD, and is a topic of debate between the spiritual and aesthetic. 
  • Exquisite craftsmanship: The altarpiece (3.34 m long and 2.12 high) was built by Constantinople craftsmen in wood, gold, silver, precious stones, and cloisonné enamel. 
  • Enamelwork: On a gold background, in combination with the enamel technique, the precious stones evoke the splendor of the heavenly Jerusalem described in the Bible.
  • Religious iconography: This refined piece of goldwork depicts scenes from the Gospel such as the enthroned Virgin Mary, Christ Pantocrator, and eminent personalities like the Byzantine empress Irene and Doge Ordelafo Faliero. 
  • Unique viewing experience: The altarpiece is kept behind a protective screen, making it a special sight to behold when it is fully unveiled during religious ceremonies and important occasions.

Pala d'Oro Highlights

Upper Section

Upper Section

In the upper section of the Pala d'Oro, a series of enamels showcase the prominent figure of Archangel Michael positioned at its core. On either side, there are six images illustrating key moments from the Life of Christ, which were incorporated in 1209. These scenes depict the Entry of Christ into Jerusalem, Descent into Limbo, Crucifixion, Ascension, Pentecost, and Death of the Virgin.

Pala d'Oro middle section

Central Section

In the central piece, you will see the majestic figure of Christ blessing, surrounded by the Evangelists holding open a book in which the words of holy scripture are replaced by gems, thus highlighting the preciousness of the words. Underneath Christ, Virgin Mary is seen praying, and Doge Ordelaffo Falier & Empress Irene are depicted at her sides. 

Lower Section of Pala d'Oro

Lower Section

The lower section depicts the life of St. Mark. Positioned at the center is a prominent image of Christ, and the surrounding four circular enamels depict the Four Evangelists. The portrayal of Christ seated on an empty throne represents the Last Judgement and signifies the Second Coming of Christ. 

History of Pala d'Oro

The Pala d'Oro was first commissioned in 976 by Doge Pietro Orseolo and later in 1105 when Doge Ordelaffo Falier, eager to embellish the St Mark’s Basilica, with a very precious and unique work of art. The project and the construction were entrusted to Byzantine workers. It was originally a panel on which there were very refined enamels representing Christ surrounded by the evangelists, with Apostles, Prophets, and scenes from the life of Christ himself. In 1209, following the Fourth Crusade, the Altarpiece was enlarged with the addition of other enamels and war trophies also coming from Constantinople. Finally, in 1345, the frame was completely modernized with Gothic-style details, as if to insert the various elements in an immense fourteenth-century cathedral, set with an even greater number of gems.

Pala d'Oro: A Best-kept Secret

Pala d'Oro: A Best-kept Secret

Needless to say, St Mark's Basilica Pala d’Oro is an incredible work of art, but the thing that many people don’t know is that when Napoleon Bonaparte occupied Venice and looted its treasures, Venetians managed to hide the altarpiece in plain sight with an “innocent” lie. Actually, it wasn’t a lie, but a misunderstanding. 

The word “glass” (Vetro) in Vetenian Dialect is the same as the word “authentic” (Vero) in Italian. So, when the Venetians told the altarpiece was authentic (Vero), Napoleon assumed it to be made of “glass”. He assumed that all the jewels in its panels are in fact, colored glass, so he left it there. Now, whether this rumor is true, or it’s just a story to justify the fact that Napoleon didn’t take the altarpiece to France, guess we’ll never know! But, the Pala d’Oro still dazzles like a thousand diamonds to date, and is one of Venice’s best-kept secrets! 

Pala d'Oro Today

Pala d'Oro, the magnificent high altar at St Mark's Basilica, is now widely regarded as the ultimate embodiment of Byzantine brilliance and the cult of light as a means to elevate humanity towards the divine. It serves as a glorious tribute to the evangelist, housing his sacred relics. Throughout its history, the Pala d'Oro has remained veiled and unveiled only during liturgical ceremonies within the Basilica, a tradition that prevails to this day. At all other times, it is concealed beneath an alternate wooden altarpiece, known as the "ferial".

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Frequently Asked Questions About Pala d'Oro at St Mark's Basilica

What is the Pala d'Oro?

Pala d’Oro is the single most important work in St Mark’s Basilica. The gold and enamel altarpiece was constructed in the time of Constantinople over the period of four centuries. This highly ornate altar screen made from 250 panels of gold and 1927 gems depicts the crucial images from the Gospel. It is a prime attraction of the St. Mark’s Basilica. 

Where can I buy Pala d'Oro St Mark's Basilica tickets?

You can buy Pala d'Oro tickets online or from the Basilica complex. It is advised that you purchase the tickets online to avoid the last-minute rush during the peak seasons or risk ticket selling outs on the day of your visit. 

Can I visit Pala d'Oro with St Mark's Basilica tickets?

You need to pay an additional fee along with the entry tickets for Basilica to view the Palo d’Oro. Visitors can use the multi-lingual audio guides to gain a more insightful view of this grand structure. 

Who designed St Mark's Basilica Pala d'Oro?

The Byzantine workers were commissioned for constructing this precious and unique work of art over the course of four centuries. 

When was Pala d'Oro built?

The Pala d’Oro was built over a series of centuries. It was believed to have first been commissioned in 976 and the last addition was in 1345.

What can I do at Pala d'Oro?

You can admire the breathtaking workmanship of the Pala d'Oro, an altarpiece made from hundreds of pieces of enamel on a golden leaf. It also holds high religious significance, depicting scenes from the Gospel. 

What are the timings of Pala d’Oro?

As the Pala d’Oro is housed inside the St. Mark’s Basilica, it is open to visitors rom 9:30 AM to 5:15 PM. On Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, it is open to visitors from 2 PM to 5:15 PM.

When is the Pala d’Oro closed?

A portion of the the grand Pala d’Oro remains closed throughout the year only to be revealed on certain liturgical events. 

Where is Pala d’Oro located?

The Pala d’Oro is located inside the St. Mark’s Basilica. It is the much-coveted high altarpiece which is magnificent and boasts of extraordinary workmanship.  

Is Pala d’Oro wheelchair accessible?

Yes, people with restricted mobility can use wheelchairs to enter the Basilica and view the Palo d’Oro. Wheelchairs are available in the venue and can be requested by contacting the staff members at the Porta dei Fiori, which is located on the left-hand side of the Basilica.

Is photography allowed at Pala d’Oro?

It is strictly forbidden to take any pictures or film videos inside the St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. Visitors are recommended to opt for skip-the-entry tickets to get a better look at the Palo d’Oro at a relaxed pace.

Is there a dress code for visiting Pala d’Oro?

Taking the religious significance of the place into account, visitors must dress modestly when visiting the Pala d’Oro. In case of tattoo, you must cover it up when you reach the sanctum sanctorum.

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