St. Mark’s Basilica, built in the eleventh century, is one of the most important and popularly visited sites in Venice. It is the most recognizable churches here. Its designs comprise of a blend of western and eastern unique styles. With a history stretching all the way back to the ninth century, it has a lot of intriguing tales to tell and legends to show.
History and Construction
The initial St. Mark’s Church was constructed in 828 and was located inside the complex of the Doge’s Palace. The purpose of its construction was to house the relics of St. Mark the Evangelist. These relics were supposedly stolen by Venetian merchants from Alexandria, Egypt many years earlier.
Unfortunately, the church burned down in the year 976 during an uprising. It was rebuilt a couple of times, the last one in 1063. This was the time when the power of the Venetian Republic had dramatically increased. The new basilica which was consecrated in the year 1094, would then appear as a symbol of the republic’s growing wealth and power. This is the basilica which we see today. It was considered as the Doge’s private chapel up until it became the city’s cathedral in 1807.
The exterior of the basilica is extremely ornate and has always been added on with designs and decorations over the years. Historians have noted that the Venetians have always brought something from the basilica like ornaments from ancient buildings elsewhere in the world or column or frieze whenever their vessels returned from the Orient.
The exterior is divided into three registers technically – upper, lower, and the domes. The mosaics in the arches of the upper level are known to depict stories from the life of Jesus. The gilded mosaic known as “The Last Judgment” is the one above the main portal. The lower level consists of five arched portals. The center one is slightly larger and is surrounded by marble columns. There are large bronze doors leading into the narthex. Above the lateral portals you will find the mosaics telling the stories of St. Mark’s relics. The one found on the left side is the oldest and depicts the St. Mark’s Basilica the way it looked in the middle of the twelfth century.
On the inside, the basilica is laid out in a Greek cross design. Each arm has a central nave with a side aisle. The interior is even more stunning than the building’s exterior. The spectacular marble floors are arranged with interspersed animal designs in a geometric pattern. The walls and ceilings are covered with about 8,000 square meters of gilded mosaics. The New Testament is depicted in those completed in the twelfth century. Along with that, those painted in the following century showcased the stories of the Old Testament. The walls are adorned with stories of the St. Mark, St. John the Evangelist, St. Peter, St. Clement, and the Virgin Mary.
At the end of the tenth century, Byzantine goldsmiths were hired to complete the work on the canopy or baldacchino, much of which is now covered and protected in glass.
So what’s the wait for? Come and visit the St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.
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