S.Marco - Venice

St Mark`s Basilica

The first St Mark's was a temporary building in the Doge’s Palace, constructed in 828, when Venetian merchants stole the supposed relics of Saint Mark the Evangelist from Alexandria. This was replaced by a new church on its present site in 832; from the same century dates the first St Mark's Campanile (bell tower). The new church was burned in a rebellion in 976, rebuilt in 978 and again to form the basis of the present basilica since 1063. The basilica was consecrated in 1094, the same year in which the body of Saint Mark was supposedly rediscovered in a pillar by Vitale Falier, doge at the time. The building also incorporates a low tower (now housing St Mark’s Treasure), believed by some to have been part of the original Doge's Palace. Within the first half of the 13th century the narthex and the new façade were constructed, most of the mosaics were completed and the domes were covered with higher wooden, lead-covered domes in order to blend in with the Gothic architecture of the redesigned Doge's Palace.

Exterior

The exterior of the basilica is divided in three registers: lower, upper, domes. In the lower register of the façade five round-arched portals, enveloped by polychrome marble columns, open into the narthex through bronze-fashioned doors. Above the central door round three bas-relief cycles of Romanesque art. The external cycle frames a 19th century gilded mosaic (Last Judgment) that replaced a damaged one with the same subject (during the centuries many mosaics had to be replaced inside and outside the basilica, but subjects were never changed). Mosaics about St Mark relics’ stories are in the lunettes of the lateral portals; the first on the left is the only one in the façade preserved from the 13th century. In the upper register, from the top of ogee arches, statues of Theological and Cardinal Virtues, four Warrior Saints and St Mark watch over the city. Above the large central window of the façade, under St Mark, the Winged Lion (his symbol) holds the book quoting 'Pax Tibi Marce Evangelista Meus' . In the lunettes of the lateral ogee arches are four gilded mosaics renewed in the 17th century. In the center of the balcony the Roman Horses face the square.

The Greek Horses

The Horses of Saint Mark were installed on the basilica in about 1254. They date to Classical Antiquity; by some accounts they once adorned the Arch of Trajan. The horses were long displayed at the Hippodrome of Constantinople, and in 1204 Doge Enrico Dandolo sent them back to Venice as part of the loot sacked from Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade. They were brought to Paris by Napoleon in 1797 but returned to Venice in 1815. After a long restoration, since the 1990s they have been kept in St Mark’s Museum (inside the basilica). The horses now on the facade of the cathedral are bronze replicas.

Interior

The interior is based on a Greek cross, with each arm divided in three naves and emphasized by a dome of its own. This is based on Justinian's Basilica of the Apostles in Constantinople. The marble floor (1100s, but underwent many restorations) is entirely tessellated in geometric patterns and animal designs. The techniques used were opus sectile and opus tessellatum. The lower register of walls and pillars is completely covered with polychrome marble slabs. The transition between the lower and the upper register is delimited all around the basilica by passageways which largely substituted the former galleries.


Venice guide museums - San Marco Basilica - St Mark's Basilica - the Doge’s Palace