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Stunning opulence and beauty.
Basilica San Marco (Venice, Italy)
Member Name: garymarsh6
Basilica San Marco (Venice, Italy)
Advantages: Superb building will leave you gawping.
Disadvantages: The queues to get in.
Of all the cathedrals, churches, mosques and temples I have ever visited I think the Basilica of St. Marks is perhaps the most beautiful place I have ever experienced. It is so magnificent, ornate and full of detail it would take several visits to truly appreciate its full beauty as it is so full of art and incredible workmanship no one could truly take in its beauty in one visit. This Byzantine Cathedral Church of Venice obtained most of its artefacts and beautiful relics from the crusades when Venice was a super maritime power being plundered from other great cities and countries around the world and brought back to Venice and installed in the Basilica.
The history of St. Marks.
Originally the Basilica was built as a private chapel to the adjoining Doges palace. In 828AD two merchants are supposedly to have smuggled the body of St. Mark out of Alexandria by hiding it under pieces of pork meat which horrified the Muslim guards who reeled away from it. The body was brought back to Venice and placed inside a small temporary chapel inside the palace. The original chapel of St. Marks burned down during a rebellion against the Doge and a grander church was built to house the body of St. Mark and it is this church that we see today being consecrated in 1071. It was used as the Doges chapel right up to 1807 when it finally became a cathedral.
Over the years and particularly in the 1400's it was added to and adorned with frescos and gold mosaics and practically the whole of the inside of the cathedral is adorned with gold, brass and semi-precious and precious stones. The cathedral was built in the style of a Greek cross and is said to consist of three parts. The frontage, the main church inside and the upper levels. Likewise the front of the cathedral consists of three parts the lower level the upper level and the domes. The internal part of the cathedral is based on the Hagia Sofia of Istanbul.
The front of the Cathedral.
The front of the Cathedral has five arched doorways leading into a narthex which is an ante room surrounding the entrance around the front and to the left side of this great Church. The ceilings here depict mainly Old Testament scenes. Above the arched doorways are scenes one of which depicts the transportation of St. Marks Body. Most of the exterior and especially that of the front and sides are covered with marble and precious stone. If you go to the rear of the Basilica you can see the unadulterated exterior of what the building originally looked like before its adornment as the back is just plain brickwork albeit very beautiful in its own right.
There is quite a lot to take notice of on the outside but it is less ostentatious than what awaits you inside. The sight is just so overwhelming as the whole interior appears to be covered in gold interspersed with scenes from the New Testament not only on the walls but also inside the great domes and copulas. It is an explosion of gold and relics and it is just too overwhelming to take in.
The Basilica is like an explosion of gold far too much to truly appreciate in one visit as there is so much of it to take in. It would need several visits to truly appreciate more individual parts and pieces of the Basilica. There are several side chapels leading off from the main body of the Basilica and altar screens that separate the church and congregation and the altars. You will also find the entrance to the crypt and treasury which houses some of the plundered relics although time did not permit us to go into the treasury for which a small entrance fee is paid.
The upper level.
For an additional fee you can go up to the upper level via a steep stone staircase. Once reaching the top of the stairs you enter a small shop selling souvenirs and religious goods. After walking through the shop you enter the upper level of the Basilica. There is a large glass area that looks down on the main body of the cathedral far below. There is a doorway which leads out to a terrace overlooking piazza San Marco. There are four statues of horses that were plundered from the hippodrome in Constantinople (Istanbul). These statues are not the originals as these are held inside the Basilica to prevent damage from pollution. Napoleon had stolen them and took them back to Paris with him along with many of the jewels that encrusted the internal walls and the Palla D'Oro alterpiece. Napoleon had the horses installed on the top of the Arch De Triumph but they were eventually returned to the Basilica in 1815. The upper level also contains the museum where you can see ancient relics including bas reliefs, mosaics, some of the church plate and gold encrusted albs and fine tapestries. There is also a wooden statue of the Lion of St. Mark holding a book.
There are five domes on top of the Cathedral the central dome is the largest followed by four domes in the sign of the cross. Internally there are also quite a few semi domes built into the ceiling of the cathedral. They are constantly being repaired and restored as is most of the cathedral which is a never ending task of maintaining this beautiful structure.
The Basilica today.
The Basilica forms the heart and centre of Venice and without doubt most people will at some point visit St. Marks Square. As most people are only in Venice for a day or two or even less I do think that it is worth a visit however I would say that to do it any justice you would need to spend at least three hours here. For those on a day trip it is probably not a good idea as the queues are usually enormous and stretch right back along St. Marks Square. The best time to go is early in the morning before the 500,000 or so people arrive on the tourist busses, trains, cars and cruise ship passengers who descend on Venice each day. What I must warn you about though is that you will not be permitted to enter the Cathedral if you are not dressed appropriately. Women must cover their shoulders and I saw quite a few being turned away after queuing for ages to get in. I think for ladies if they carry a shawl or pashmina in their handbags these can be wrapped around your shoulders thereby showing respect and covering your shoulders. They are very strict in this respect and you will be turned away if you are not covered up. You are also not permitted to take rucksacks in with you either. They can be safely deposited in the ex-church of Antonio di San Basso to the left of the basilica the entrance of which is in Calle San Basso.
Would I recommend a visit to the Basilica?
Absolutely it is without fail one of the most famous and beautiful buildings in Venice. It is supposed to represent the heart of Venice and most visitors will end up in St. Marks Square at some point during their trip to this lovely city of Islands. As I have pointed out I feel that several visits to the Basilica would be necessary to really appreciate the finer details as there is just far too much to take in and absorb on one visit. It is an explosion of gold and art and far too much to appreciate in one go. If you are lucky enough to return to Venice I think that it is a must visit attraction. I for one will return again and again to admire the interior and exterior of this beautiful building. For me I think it is the highlight of any visit to Venice along with the Ducal Palace next door.
Summary: A must see when visiting Venice.
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