Basilica di San Marco is one of the best known examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture. It is modelled after Constantine the Great’s Church of the Holy Apostles and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. It has a floor plan in the shape of a Greek cross, with a dome on each of the four arms. Each arm has a central aisle and two side aisles.
We lined up early to be the first group in for the day. Photographs are not allowed inside, so I kept my camera in my handbag…until I saw dozens of people snapping away, and nobody was stopping them…so I joined in.
The interior is decorated with Byzantine, Romanesque and Gothic art mostly in glorious gold. Gilded mosaics dating mostly from the 12th century cover an area of about 8,000 square metres on the vaults and cupolas, earning it the nickname Chiesa d’Oro (church of gold).
The altarpiece is the Pala d’Oro, a panel of gold emnedded with gems (now behind glass). It was commissioned from Byzantine goldsmiths in 976 and further embellished over the centuries. Naploeon pinched some of the precious stones in 1797.
The spectacular floor is a 12th century mixture of mosaic and marble in geometric and animal designs.
Not far from the Pala d’Oro is a special paving stone. It is marked by a heart and the ducal corno (ceremonial hat) and indicates the place where the heart of Francesco Erizzo (doge from 1631 – 1646) was buried. The rest of his body lies in the Church of San Martino in Castello, near his birthplace. The black shape under the corno dogale symbolises a hedgehog (riccio in Italian), the symbol of the Erizzo family. Most people walk right over it, and we would have too, if not for the wonderful book, Secret Venice.
The Tesoro (Treasury) is on the far right of the main altar and for €3 you can enter and admire a collection of Crusaders’ plunder from Constantinople.
It pays to be early to enter this incredible church. We didn’t have to wait too long and it wasn’t all that crowded. Basilica di San Marco is not to be missed if you visit Venice.
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