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BASILICA DI SAN MARCO

The breathtaking Byzantine basilica dominating Piazza San Marco was constructed in such ornate fashion for two reasons: as an embodiment of the Venetian Republic’s power and as a fitting resting place for St Mark. Serving as the doges’ chapel, it was the site of coronations, funerals and processions, all gloriously framed by more than 4,000 sq m (43,000 sq ft) of mosaics, eastern treasures and 500 columns, some dating back to the 3rd century.

NEED TO KNOW

prac_info Piazza San Marco • 041 270 83 11 • www.basilicasanmarco.it • Guided visits: book on www.alata.it

prac_info Basilica: Open mid-Apr–Oct: 9:30am–5pm Mon–Sat, 2–5pm Sun & pub hols; Nov–mid-Apr: 9:30am–5pm Mon–Sat, 2–4:30pm Sun & pub hols

prac_info Pala d’Oro, treasury and Loggia dei Cavalli: Open mid-Apr–Oct: 9:35am–5pm; Nov–mid-Apr: 9:45am–4:45pm Mon–Sat, 2–4:30pm Sun & pub hols; adm Pala d’Oro €2; treasury €3

prac_info Museum: Open mid-Apr–Oct: 9:35am–4:45pm daily; adm €5

Google Map

  • Pre-book tickets online to beat the queues.
  • Visit at dusk, when the setting sun lights up the façade.
  • Take binoculars to examine the mosaics, but you must leave backpacks in the luggage room.
TopTen

1. Western Façade

A marvellous succession of domes, columns, arches and spires, interspersed with marble statues, screens and glittering mosaics, greets tourists in Piazza San Marco. The northernmost arch houses 13th-century mosaics that depict the basilica itself. Other mosaics are 17th- and 18th-century copies.

TopTen

Striking façade of Basilica di San Marco

2. Atrium Mosaics

These glorious mosaics of precious gold-leaf over glass tiles were created in the Byzantine tradition by expert craftsmen, and give detailed accounts of the Old Testament. The 13th-century cupola’s concentric circles recount 24 episodes from Genesis, including the Creation and Adam and Eve.

TopTen

Detailed mosaics created in the Byzantine tradition

3. Flooring

The elaborate paving is a mosaic masterpiece of multicoloured stones on uneven levels, evocative of the sea. Intricate geometrical designs sit alongside animal shapes.

4. Pala d’Oro

The dazzling jewel-encrusted gold screen was commissioned in Constantinople in 976 but frequently added to at later dates. It has 250 panels bearing 1,927 authentic gems and cloisonné plaques.

TopTen

The dazzling jewel-encrusted gold screen

5. The Tetrarchs

The inspiration for these red porphyry rock figures is unknown. They probably represent the four emperors of the eastern and western Roman empires. The statue was pillaged from Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204.

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The Tetrarchs representing the four Roman emperors

6. Treasury

The basilica’s glittering riches include precious chalices of rock crystal enamelled by medieval silver- and goldsmiths and reliquaries from Venice’s eastern conquests, including parts of the True Cross.

7. Ascension Dome

The central dome has a spectacular array of early 13th-century mosaics, depicting the New Testament. Christ in Glory is shown above depictions of the Virtues.

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The central dome with its 13th-century mosaics

8. Pentecost Dome

What is probably the first dome of the basilica to be adorned with mosaics depicts the Descent of the Holy Ghost, seen as a flame over the heads of the 12 apostles.

9. Basilica Museum

Here you’ll find the famed quartet of horses crafted from bronze and covered in gold. Booty from the Fourth Crusade, these restored Graeco-Roman equine figures originally graced the Hippodrome in Constantinople.

10. Loggia dei Cavalli

Replicas of the horses, now in the museum, stand on this balcony over-looking Piazza San Marco. Visitors can also see clutches of columns, whose dimensions and decorative styles indicate their origins.

TopTen

A replica of a horse

BUILDING THE BASILICA

Construction first began in 829, but it was burned down in 976, in a revolt. The building dates from 1071 and has a Greek cross lay-out capped by five domes. The architect is shown over the central portal, biting his fingers in frustration. The basilica became the city cathedral in 1807.

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