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Visit Venice

Basilica di San Marco


St. Mark's Basilica is Venice's most famous church, known for its art work and history. The church overlooks St. Mark's Square on the edge of the Canal Grande and is joined to the Doge's Palace. In the 9th century merchants smuggled Saint Mark's relics out of Egypt and brought them to Venice. The scene is depicted in the oldest known exterior mosaic in the world located above the cathedral's front doors (1260-70). A church was constructed to house the saint's relics but burnt down almost 150 years later. It was rebuilt by Doge Domenico Contarini and the cathedral we see today dates back to 1071 but incorporates what remained of the original structures. The decoration of the building continued to be embellished over the years, particularly during the 1300's when precious pieces of ancient architecture were being brought to the city by merchants who traveled to the east. Many of the additions were older than the building itself. When the adjacent Doge's Palace was renovated the cathedral also got an architectural up-date and Gothic architecture was introduced like the elevated domes and a new façade. The Doge's (Dukes) of Venice used the building as their own private chapel until it became the Cathedral of Venice in 1807.

The building has a Greek cross design, a central large dome and four domes on each of the arms of the cross. Within the church you can find art from several periods. The narthex (entrance lobby) has a marble mosaic floor from the 11th and 12th century and gilded ceiling mosaics. 12th century gilded mosaics cover most of the interior ceilings (about 8,000m²) on the vaults and cupolas. On the floor there are more mosaics as well as geometric marble patterns. Above the altar sits Pala d'Oro, a golden panel studded with gems. In the choir stalls are reliefs and bronze statues by Sansovino. In the cathedral Treasury you can see the Crusader spoils brought from Constantinople and across the continent. On the exterior there are two free standing Syrian columns with intricate Byzantine-style carvings which date back to the 5th or 6th century.

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