Of the crown jewels of St. Mark’s Basilica, the most treasured one is Pala d’Oro. Measuring 3.45 meters in length and 1.4 meters in height, this Byzantine altarpiece is a panel of gold embedded with hundreds of gems which include 1,300 pearls, 300 emeralds, 300 sapphires, 400 garnets, 100 amethysts, along with rubies and topazes. The conniving Napoleon stole a few in 1797 but lessons were learnt and currently, these precious gems are guarded by a protective glass. Crafted by goldsmiths from Venice and Constantinople, this altar is framed in a Romanesque arch at the top and a lower Gothic arch.
Home to treasures collected over the centuries — 283 pieces in gold, silver, glass and other precious materials to be exact — the treasury of the basilica is situated to the right of the main altar and can be accessed from the corner of the south transept. The treasury has items divided into four sections:
- Antiquity and the Early Middle ages objects such as two beautiful fish-shaped lamps sculpted in crystal and amphorae carved from a single block of agate.
- Byzantine goldsmiths’ works, including cloisonné enameled chalices and two portable icons of the Archangel Michael.
- Objects from Islamic art such as the turquoise glass bowl with stylized animals in relief studded with semi-precious stones
- Objects of western origin including the famous perfume-brazier
Museo di San Marco
As you enter the St. Mark’s museum, you will find the famous Triumphal Quadriga (the four bronze horses). Established at the end of the 19th century, this museum contains Paolo Veneziano’s painting on wood, used as a cover for the Pala d'Oro, illustrating stories from the life of St. Mark. You will also find 13th- to 16th-century Gobelin tapestries, 12th-century Byzantine sculptures, Persian carpets, liturgical vestments, illuminated manuscripts with the texts of St. Mark liturgies, and fragments of ancient mosaics removed during restoration in the 19th century.
Following the Fourth Crusade in 1204, Venice was flooded with precious marbles from Constantinople. These marbles, when constructing the basilica, were used in a symbolic manner based on their characteristics and color. For example, the red porphyry was considered the most precious stone and associated with imperial and divine power. Hence, it was used for the porphyry group of the Tetrarchs in the south facade and in the interior of the doge’s tribune. Another precious marble was the pavonazzetto marble (identified by violet or reddish markings) and was used in the apse columns, which were considered as privile
Tomb of St. Mark
In 1063, when the construction of a new basilica was commissioned, the ruins of previous buildings were transformed into a crypt and the new basilica built above it. The tomb of St. Mark lies in this crypt. Following restoration work on the basilica, the crypt was finally reopened in 1889. Situated below the presbytery, the tomb of the great evangelist recently fell victim to a mind-numbing controversy when a British historian claimed that the tomb contains the bones of Alexander the Great. However, substantial evidence is yet to prove this theory.