St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice
St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica San Marco) is located on the square of the same name next to the Doge’s Palace and is a magnificent example of Byzantine architecture. The cathedral is famous all over the world and is a must-see when visiting the sights of Venice.
In addition to being a beautiful piece of architecture with an interesting history, this cathedral holds the relics of St. Mark the Evangelist, which many believers come here to worship.
There are also a lot of works of art brought from Constantinople and the interior decoration of the cathedral and numerous mosaics will impress even the most sophisticated tourists.
St. Mark’s Cathedral is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
History of St. Mark’s Cathedral
The origins of St. Mark’s Cathedral date back to 828, when, according to legend, two Venetian merchants Rustico and Buono removed the relics of the Apostle Mark from Constantinople.
Relics of the saint have been transported specially to save them at the coming destruction of Christian cathedrals by Moslems. The Apostle Mark to this day is the guardian of Venice.
By the way, the mosaic on one of the walls of the basilica tells about this legend.
Construction of the Basilica
Immediately after the relics of the Apostle Mark came into the possession of Venice, the construction of the Basilica of San Marco began and was completed in 832 under Doge Giovanni Partecipazio. Unfortunately, it soon burned down due to a fire, but by 1063 a new basilica was built in its place.
For the construction of St. Mark’s Cathedral was used hardwood, which at that time was used everywhere in Venice by virtue of its properties. The fact that larch is able to preserve its original quality for a long time, even in contact with water.
Throughout history, the basilica has played an important religious and political role in Venetian society. Every social event, be it the coronation of the Doge, popular celebrations or the departure of famous discoverers, took place here, under the patronage of Saint Mark.
The architecture of St. Mark’s Cathedral
With its beautiful marble decorations, columns and statues, St. Mark’s Cathedral is a sight to behold.
Photo: Vladislav Gajic / Shutterstock.com
The shape and architecture of St. Mark’s Basilica are peculiar: the cathedral is built in the form of a Greek cross and has five domes. The total area of the basilica is 4,000 square meters and the height is 43 meters.
The interior decoration of the cathedral is made in full accordance with the Venetian style adopted at that time.
The main part of the basilica is decorated with exquisite Romanesque carvings, made at the beginning of the 13th century, while the interior is replete with picturesque mosaics of the same period. Indeed, this cathedral is the keeper not only of the relics of the saint, but also of art masterpieces.
Photo: And_Ant / Shutterstock.com
Unfortunately, the mosaics have not been fully preserved and many have been replaced by paintings by Tintoretto and Titian.
The icons in this cathedral are also in the form of mosaics and reproduce scenes from the life of St. Mark. Numerous mosaic paintings on the ceiling of the basilica recount scenes from the Old Testament.
Photo: mary416 / Shutterstock.com
At the entrance to the reliquary, where the saint’s relics are kept, the huge bronze doors decorated with lion heads attract attention.
The golden altar.
One can marvel endlessly at the decoration of the cathedral and the magnificent mosaics that literally permeate the walls of the basilica, but its most valuable part is the altarpiece. Here is the true Venetian treasury and holy of holies – the famous Golden Altar (Pala d’Oro).
Just imagine, it took about 500 years to build the Golden Altar! The altar is astonishing in size: it is 2.51 meters high and 3.34 meters long.
The jewel-like richness of the altar surpasses all imaginable limits. It consists of 80 miniature icons, framed in gold and decorated with different kinds of precious stones.
How to get to St. Mark’s Cathedral
If you have planned a visit to St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, you won’t have to look for it for long. The basilica is located in the square of the same name, not far from the famous Doge’s Palace.
You can get to the basilica:
- by foot from Piazzale Roma or or Santa Lucia train station in about 40 minutes (follow the signs);
- By water streetcar № 1, 51, 2 from Piazzale Roma or Santa Lucia Railway Station.
San Marco Basilica is open from October
- October 29 through April 15 – 9:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. weekdays and 2 to 4:30 p.m. Sundays and holidays;
- April 16 through October 28 – 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. weekdays and 2 to 5:15 p.m. Sundays and holidays.
- Oct. 29 through April 15 – 9:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m;
- April 16 – October 28 – 9.30 a.m. to 5.15 p.m.
The Golden Altar and Treasury can be viewed:
- Oct. 29 through April 15 – 9:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. and 2 to 4:30 p.m. on Sundays and holidays;
- April 16 through October 28 – 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. and 2 to 5:15 p.m. on Sunday and holidays.
Check the official website for more information: the schedule may change.
Prices for admission
Admission to St. Mark’s Cathedral is free as of 2022.
There is a fee to visit the museum, the Golden Altar and the treasury:
- St. Mark’s Museum ticket: 7 Euros;
- Ticket to the Pala d’oro: 5 Euros;
- Ticket to Tesoro: 3 Euros for adults.
To see the exact cost of tickets, visit the official website of St. Mark’s Cathedral at www.basilicasanmarco.it.
Of course, the first place to see Venice is St. Mark’s Square, where you can see not only the cathedral, but also the famous Doge’s Palace nearby.
The Doge’s Palace is known as the seat of the Venetian Doges and is the central building of Venice. In addition to its interesting architectural design, the palace is famous for the enormous amount of art stored within its walls and the historical significance of its halls.
Photo: Don Mammoser / Shutterstock.com
The Doge’s Palace was not only the site of tribunals and sessions of the first representatives of the government, but also the seat of justice.
From the Doge’s Palace you can get out on the infamous Bridge of Sighs, connecting the magnificent palace to the prison where convicts were sent after being sentenced. Incidentally, Casanova was also imprisoned in this prison, the only prisoner who escaped from this terrible place.
Excursions in Venice
If you want something more interesting than the traditional walking around the city on the map, try a new format of sightseeing. Nowadays more and more popular are unusual excursions from the locals! After all, who better than a local knows the history and the most interesting places in Venice?
You can see all the tours and choose the most intriguing ones on Tripster.
St. Mark’s Basilica
St. Mark’s Cathedral (Basilica di San Marco) is among the most famous temples in Venice, a unique city in Italy, located on 118 islands. If you want to see a piece of ancient Byzantium in modern Europe, you will not find a better site. San Marco Basilica is a classic example of Byzantine architecture not only in the Old Continent, but all over the world. The iconic building, impressive for its splendor and luxury, is located in the square of the same name and adjoins the Gothic Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale), residence of the rulers of the Venetian Republic in the Middle Ages. Originally the basilica was its chapel, gaining “independence” only with the status of the residence of the Patriarch of Venice. Here are preserved ancient art objects, which are of no value. In 1987 UNESCO included San Marco Cathedral in the list of protected sites.
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Video: St. Mark’s Cathedral
The new basilica – specifically for the storage of relics
The remains of the Evangelist Mark have been carefully preserved in this temple for centuries. It was actually built to house them. The date of its foundation is considered to be 829, when the relics of the apostle were brought to Venice. Previously the body of the disciple of Christ had been in one of the cathedrals of Alexandria, but in 828 it was stolen by Venetian traders Buono and Rustico. They were motivated by good intentions: to save Mark’s remains from the vandalism of Muslims who were destroying Christian temples in order to build mosques. There was a certain amount of risk in transporting the relic, and in order to avoid being caught, they took the ploy. They put Mark’s remains in a large basket and piled pork carcasses on top. They were sure that the Saracens (the population of the Arab Caliphate in the V-XIII centuries) would not touch such “uncleanness” when inspecting travelers. But for greater security, they hid the basket in the sail folds.
The forerunner of the basilica was a modest-sized temple of St. Theodore, which bore the name of the original patron of the city. When the body of the apostle was delivered in 829, the Doge (head of the republic) Partecipazio and ordered the construction of another temple – a majestic and magnificent one. It was to match the high purpose of the repository of the relics of the late evangelist, who had become the new patron saint of Venice.
Procession of the Relics of the Holy Cross in Piazza San Marco, Gentile Bellini, 1496
The news of the appearance of the shrine quickly spread throughout Europe, and the cathedral of San Marco became one of the most revered holy places by Christians. However in 976 a misfortune happened – a fire. After that the church was repeatedly rebuilt. The final reconstruction was consecrated in 1094. In that form, almost unchanged, the building of St. Mark’s Cathedral survives to this day, towering near the Grand Canal (Canal Grande), the main “street” of modern Venice, stretching for 3800 meters.
View of the cathedral across St. Mark’s Square Inside the Basilica of St. Mark’s Quadriga
San Marco Basilica architecture
The prototypes of St. Mark’s Basilica were two Orthodox churches: the Church of the Holy Apostles, which existed in Constantinople from 330 to 1461, and Istanbul’s now functioning St. Sophia Cathedral. The Basilica of Venice has the form of a Greek cross and is topped with a large dome at its intersection. There are five domes in all: the rest of them tower over the “branches” of the cross. The portals of the central facade (there are five of them) are decorated with mosaic tympanas of the XVIII century, installed instead of the obsolete analogues of the XVI century. As a result of many reconstructions, different styles are fused in the appearance of St. Mark’s Cathedral. Its remarkably harmonious architectonics combines Oriental marble and Romanesque and Greek bas-reliefs, columns of different orders and Gothic capitals, not to mention Byzantine and Italian sculptures. At the same time, it remains a classic Byzantine cross-domed basilica.
The domes of St. Mark’s Basilica overlooking Venice
What to see in St. Mark’s Basilica
Detail of the central facade of the cathedral, where statues of the apostle St. Mark with angels, and under them a winged lion – the symbol of St. Mark and Venice
The cathedral building is breathtaking in its proportions. It stretches 43 meters in height, 76.5 meters in length and 62.5 meters in width. The total area is 4,000 square meters. The main (western) façade is a work of art: masterpieces from different eras, from antiquity to the Middle Ages are on display here. On the southern side, the one closest to the residence of the former heads of state, are two columns brought in from Syria. They are decorated with fifth-century Byzantine carvings. Statues of the four tetrarchs (4th century) brought from Turkey stand on the outer corner of the treasury. The upper part of the main façade is decorated with thin towers, they were added six centuries ago.
The altar part and the central nave are separated from each other. Between them is an iconostasis from the end of the 14th century. A large cross crowns the altar barrier made of colored marble. On either side of it, in addition to the statues of the Evangelist Mark and the Virgin Mary, are statues of all twelve disciples of Christ. The main cathedral altar, where the relics of the Apostle are actually housed, is under the ciborium. They were moved there from the crypt in 1835. The set floor of the temple (XII century) is also marble; it perfectly matches its exterior and interior decoration. The main altar, better known as the Pala d’Oro (“Golden Altar”), is priceless. It was created for nearly five hundred years by Byzantine goldsmiths. It extends 2.51 meters in height and 3.34 meters in length. It, consisting of 80 miniature icons, is called among the main treasures of the city. The icons are made in the technique of cloisonne enamel, inlaid with precious stones and decorated with gold. Some of the treasures were stolen by Napoleon in 1797. Most of them survived, and can still be seen today. In general, the treasury of the cathedral is rich: priceless relics were brought back by the Crusaders who sacked Constantinople.
The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek The Temptation of Christ The Last Supper The central facade of St. Mark’s Cathedral
The oldest mosaics, dating back to the 13th century, are preserved in the atria, just outside the entrance. They reproduce scenes from the Torah (the Old Testament Pentateuch), while the mosaics inside the San Marco church show us biblical scenes from the Gospel. The dome closest to the main entrance is also the oldest. The mosaic decorating it illustrates how, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove. The tomb of the ruler of Venice, Ordelaf Follières, and two other rulers of the Republic, is also near the main entrance. Just behind it we see a memorial sign commemorating the historic reconciliation in 1177 between Roman Pontiff Alexander III and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa.
The museum at St. Mark’s Church keeps a quadriga of gilded bronze. This is the only surviving example of ancient equestrian sculpture from the Greek master Lysippus. It used to crown the arches of Trajan around the 4th century BC. Bronze copies of the horses can be seen on the loggia of the main facade. Samples of early mosaics are also preserved in the museum. There is a balcony above the main entrance from which you can admire the panorama of Piazza San Marco. But when planning to visit the temple, do not forget that it is active, so there are certain clothing requirements. Do not enter with large bags, talk loudly, take photos or videos.
The oldest mosaic in the facade (13th century) The Procession of the Relics of St. Mark to the Cathedral The Arrival of the Relics of the Apostle Mark in Venice. 1660
The Basilica is open on weekdays from 9:45 to 17:00. On Sundays and holidays it is open from 14:00 to 17:00, and in winter until 16:00. Admission is free. St. Mark’s Cathedral Museum receives visitors from 9:45 to 16:45. The bell tower is open in the summer from 9:00 to 21:00 and until 15:45 in the winter.
How to get there
There is an Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Venice. In St. Petersburg you can take the Italian carrier AirOne.
Another option is to take a train Moscow-Nice. The train goes via Verona from which Venice is only an hour away if you take an express train.
From the local train station Santa Lucia to the Cathedral of San Marco there is a water bus (routes № 1, 2 and 51). Travel time is about 25 minutes. You can walk, but it is longer – 30-45 minutes.