The Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark officially known in Italian as the Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco and commonly known as Saint Mark’s Basilica is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice, northern Italy.
It is the most famous of the many churches of Venice and one of the finest examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture.
In 828, Venetian merchants stole the relics of Saint Mark the Evangelist from their original resting place in Alexandria, Egypt.
The relics were initially housed in a temporary chapel within the Doge’s Palace, but a more substantial church was built to shelter the valuable relics in 828-832
The church burned down in 976 during an uprising.
It was restored under his successor, Doge Domenico Contarini (died about 1070).
The present basilica was completed in 1071.
The plan is a Greek cross, and the building is surmounted by five domes. The design is distinctly Byzantine, and it is likely that both Byzantine and Italian architects and craftsmen were employed in the construction and decoration.
Over the centuries, additions of sculpture, mosaics, and ceremonial objects have increased the church’s richness.
It was the doge’s private chapel until 1807, when it became the city’s cathedral.
The exterior of the west facade of the basilica is divided in three registers: lower, upper, and domes.
In the lower register of the facade, five round-arched portals, enveloped by polychrome marble columns, open into the narthex through bronze-fashioned doors.
The upper level of mosaics has scenes from the Life of Christ (all post-Renaissance replacements) culminating in a 19th-century replacement Last Judgment lower down over the main portal that replaced a damaged one with the same subject. (during the centuries many mosaics had to be replaced inside and outside the basilica, but subjects were rarely changed)
Mosaics with scenes showing the history of the relics of Saint Mark from right to left fill the lunettes of the lateral portals; this is only one still surviving from the 13th century.
Most of the narthex mosaics depict Old Testament stories, preparing the visitor for the stories of the New Testament inside the church.
Above the large central window is the Winged Lion – symbol of Venice – and the statues at the top of the central portal depict Saint Mark and the angels.
Along the roofline, by contrast, there is a line of statues, many in their own small pavilions.
On the central balcony are statues of Greek Horses, installed in 1254. The horses were originally displayed at the Hippodrome of Constantinople but are now in the basilica’s museum. The ones on the facade are replicas.
The statue of the Four Tetrarchs, taken from Constantinople in 1204. It represents the inter-dependence of the four Roman rulers who ruled Tetrarchs, St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice under the co-emperor plan devised by Diocletian. It is set into the southwestern corner of the basilica.
The bell tower of San Marcos is an imposing square tower 99 meters high, topped by a spire was once a beacon for navigation. It is the prototype of all the towers in the area of the lagoon.
Inside Saint Mark’s Basilica it is almost impossible not to immediately look up: spectacular gilded mosaics cover a total area of about 8,000 square meters on the vaults and cupolas.Dating mostly from the 12th century, the interior mosaics proclaim the message of Christian salvation through events from the New Testament.
Interwoven with this main plan are such motifs as the story of the Virgin, the martyrdoms of St. Peter and St. Clement, and events in the lives of St. John the Evangelist, St. John the Baptist and St. Isadore, the great pantheon of saints venerated by the Venetians. But most important of all are the cycles with the legend of St. Mark. The gold background is meant to impress, but also symbolizes the Divine and the light of God himself.
The altarpiece is the famous Pala d’Oro (Golden Pall), a panel of gold embedded with gems.This masterpiece incorporates 1,300 pearls, 300 sapphires, 300 emeralds, and 400 garnets. It was commissioned from Byzantine goldsmiths in 976 and further embellished over the centuries. Napoleon stole some of the precious stones in 1797, but there are still plenty left, gleaming behind protective glass.
The treasury is situated to the right of the main altar, contains many of the items taken from Constantinopleas well as other relics the church has gathered over the years.
The marble floor is entirely tessellated in geometric patterns and animal designs.
For its opulent design, gold ground mosaics, and its status as a symbol of Venetian wealth and power, from the 11th century on the building has been known by the nickname Chiesa d’Oro meaning Church of gold.