St. Mark’s Basilica is one of the oldest & the most famous cathedral in the picturesque Italian city of ‘Venice’. This cathedral serves as the seat of ‘Archbishop of Venice’ since 1807 & is considered as one of the finest known examples of ‘Byzantine Architecture’ in the world. The cathedral, which is officially known in Italian as the ‘Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale DI San Marco’, boasts the glory & the prowess of a mighty Venetian Kingdom that ruled here in the 11th century. The opulent design & the rich use of gilded mosaics for adorning its spacious interior have earned this splendid cathedral a nickname as ‘Chiesa d’Oro’ (church of Gold)!
HISTORY IN BRIEF:
The original St. Marks Basilica was located inside the ‘Doge’s Palace’ complex & was constructed in 828 AD. The church was constructed to house the relics of ‘St. Mark the Evangelist’, which, according to a legend, were brought to Venice by Venetian merchants who plundered it from its native resting place in Alexandria, Egypt.
The chapel inside the complex was burnt down in 976 during an insurgence against Doge ‘Pietro Candiano IV’. It was restored twice & the second restoration done by Doge ‘Domenico Contarini’ in 1070 had given the church today’s look. The majestic church was supposedly consecrated in 1093 & till 1807; it remained as the Doge’s private chapel. Although, for the past millennium, the basic structure of this veteran basilica has seldom changed, its interior ornamentation has gone through a series of successive modifications over several centuries.
This magnificent basilica was built when the Venetian dynasty was at its peak of opulence & glory & hence it exhibits the best manifestation of the Byzantine architecture!
St. Mark’s Basilica is world renowned for its rich interior which consists of extravagant gilded mosaics that makes it ‘A church of gold’. The construction was done using the blend of ‘Gothic’ & ‘Byzantine’ style architecture & the floor plan was designed to replicate the ‘Greek Cross’ with a dome over the crossings & other four domes on each of the four arms. The basilica is 76.5 meters (251 ft) in length & 62.5 meters (205.1 ft) in width, whereas, its maximum height till the top of the central dome reaches up to 43 meters (141 ft).
- The Exterior:
The exterior of the basilica is adorned using magnificent creations which have been added to the main structure over the years by Venetians. The exterior western façade of the basilica can roughly be divided into three parts- Lower, Upper & the Domes. The ‘Lower Part’ consists of five arched-portals surrounded by polychrome marble pilasters, which lead to the narthex through imposing bronze doors. The lunettes above the portals are ornamented using mosaics describing the legends of St. Marks’s relics; the leftmost mosaic is considered as the oldest one of the pack. The lunette above the central portal features an amazing gilded mosaic of ‘The Last Judgment’, which is actually a 19th century replacement of the original mosaic based on the same theme.
The gilded mosaics in the ‘Upper Level’ ogee arches narrate the stories of Jesus’ life. The roofline of the façade features a line of statues sheltered under the pavilions along with the other four statues of Theological & Cardinal Virtues which stand right above the ogee arches. St. Mark’s statue stands right above the huge central window containing a large gilded winged Lion which is considered as the symbol of St. Mark as well as that of Venice. The central balcony features replicas of the statues of ‘Greek Horses’ brought from ‘Hippodrome’ of ‘Constantinople’ & installed in 1254; the original statues can be found in basilica’s museum.
The statue of the Four ‘Tetrarchs’ can also be found in the southwestern corner of the basilica, which were taken from Constantinople in 1204. The intricate cluster of marble columns near the portals & exotic carving on them is the most salient feature of the incredible façade of St. Mark’s.
- The Interior:
The interior of the basilica is far more imposing than its exterior & it has to be seen to be believed! The basilica is based on the ‘Greek Cross’ layout & each arm of the cross has a central nave flanked by aisles. The marble floorings of the basilica feature the geometric patterns scattered with animal figures. The central narthex is decorated using exceptional gilded mosaics which depict the stories from the ‘Old Testament’ while the walls in the inner part of the church are adorned with the mosaic from the 13th century depicting the stories from ‘New Testament’.
The awe-inspiring gilded mosaics inside the basilica engulf around 8,000 sq. meters of wall & ceiling surface. The stories of the Virgin Mary, St. Clement, St. Mark & St. John the Evangelist can be seen painted on the walls as well as on the ceilings.
The high altar of the basilica is covered using a canopy like structure called as ‘Pala d’Oro’ (The golden Pal). It consists of the panel of gold studded with the precious gems that resides on the columns adorned with 11th century reliefs. The panel was completed by Byzantine goldsmiths who were hired in 976 AD. The ‘Pala d’Oro’ was further exaggerated in due course of time by the successive rulers. Much of the work is now protected behind the glass.
The ‘Tesoro’ (Treasury) resides at the far right of the main altar which has the sumptuous collection of the myriad artifacts which were plundered by the Crusaders from ‘Constantinople’ as well as other precious articles gathered by the basilica throughout its glorious history.
This awesome gilded church of St. Mark is surely the gleaming gem in the crown of the beautiful city of Venice & is also one of the premium hotspots for tourists. Every year, thousands of visitors congregate here only to get mesmerized by the appearance of ‘St. Mark’s Basilica: The Glorious ‘Church Of Gold’ In Venice’!