In the heart of Venice, the mythical St. Mark’s Basilica is a must-see for anyone visiting La Serenissima! Follow the guide! ⛪
💡 The Captain’s tip 💡
🧐 Want to know more about the history of Venice? Captain Ulysses highly recommends this free guided tour of the city. It’s up to you to choose how much you wish to tip the tour guide!
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🏛 Planning your trip to Venice? Be sure to check out Captain Ulysses’ complete article on what to see and do in the city: a Guide to Venice
👶 Planning a family adventure to Venice? Discover all of the Captain’s top tips in the article: Exploring Venice with the Kids: Family-Friendly Activities.
Brief history of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice
St. Mark, holy patron of Venice
While might seem rather obvious that St. Mark is the holy patron of Venice, it wasn’t always the case.
Up until the 9th century, the ‘Serenissima’ was indeed under the protection of Saint Theodore.
But in 828, two Venetian merchants, Buono de Malamocco and Rustico de Torcello, stole the remains of St Mark from Alexandria and brought them to Venice, following the orders of Doge Giustiniano Participazio.
The Republic of Venice then abandoned St Theodore and made St Mark its holy patron.
The first churches dedicated to St. Mark
In 832, the first church dedicated to St. Mark was built on the site of the chapel of the Doge’s Palace (also called Palazzo Ducale), but it was destroyed in a fire in 976, and rebuilt in 978. Unfortunately this second church was also short-lived.
St. Mark’s Basilica since the 11th century
The construction of St. Mark’s Basilica as we know it began in 1063.
Doge Domenico Contarini, who administered the city of Venice at the time, wanted the future basilica to symbolize Venetian strength, and drew inspiration from the basilicas of Constantinople, especially the Church of the Holy Apostles. The Doge is even said to have entrusted the construction of the basilica to Byzantine architects.
After many years of construction work, St Mark’s Basilica was consecrated in 1094. The basilica was embellished and transformed over the following centuries and collected countless riches and treasures – among which the horses of St. Mark adorning its sumptuous façade – brought back from the far reaches of the East.
Visiting St. Mark’s Basilica in Greece
Exterior of St. Mark’s Basilica
With its monumental dimensions (76.5 meters long, 62.6 meters wide and 45 meters high / 249 ft x 203 ft x 147 ft), its five domes and its sumptuous facade adorned with mosaics and sculptures, St. Mark’s Basilica is an architectural masterpiece beautifully blending gothic and byzantine influences.
The facade of the basilica is so intricate that it can be quite difficult to know where to look! Among the splendid ornaments that adorn the building, do not to miss:
- the Horses of St. Mark, which were brought to Venice following the sack of Constantinople in 1204 (the horses adorning the façade are actually copies of the original bronze statues, which are on display in the Museum of St. Mark)
- the five portals of the basilica, each crowned with carved arches and mosaics, the oldest of which dates back to the 13th century
- the statue of the Four Tetrarchs representing four Roman emperors, nestled in the south-west corner of the basilica.
Inside St. Mark’s Basilica
Structure of the basilica
Like its Byzantine models, St. Mark’s Basilica is based on a Greek cross, with each arm surmounted by a dome. The central dome stands at the crossing of the four branches.
The interior of the basilica displays sumptuous golden mosaics, to which it owes its nickname of “Golden Basilica”.
They cover a total area of 4,240 sqm / 45,639 sq ft, making St. Mark’s Basilica one of the largest mosaic ensembles in the world!
Most mosaics date from the 13th century, – although some of them, especially on the façade, are more recent (16th – 18th centuries) -, and represent the history of Christianity.
The marble floor
Don’t forget to look down!
The marble floor of the basilica is a work of art in its own right! The pavement is a clever assemblage of marble and coloured stones forming various patterns, some of which even give the impression of being in relief.
Inside, the Basilica counts some 2600 ancient columns of different shapes and colors, made of marble, porphyry, jasper, serpentine or alabaster. 500 of them date back to the 3rd century AD.
These columns, which have an essentially decorative purpose, were brought back from Venetian wars and conquests, in Constantinople for the most part.
The high altar and the iconostasis
Be sure to take a look at the high altar, adorned with a canopy, and the iconostasis (which separates the nave from the sanctuary), surmounted with sculptures by Italian artist Dalle Masegne.
Located behind the high altar, the Pala d’Oro (€2) is one of the jewels in the crown of St. Mark’s Basilica. This exceptional altarpiece (3.45 metres wide and 1.40 metres high / 9.84 ft x 3.28 ft) is a silverware masterpiece.
It is adorned with 1927 gemstones and 80 Byzantine enamels depicting scenes from the Gospel and the lives of the Saints, arranged around the central figure of a Christ Pantocrator (a Christ in glory).
Designed in 976 by Byzantine artists, the Pala d’Oro was embellished over the following centuries before reaching its definitive shape in 1342.
St. Mark’s Museum
If you want to have a look at the original Horses of St. Mark, head to St. Mark’s Museum (€5). The museum also exhibits fragments of mosaics which are over 7 centuries old.
The ticket to the museum also gives access to a gallery where you can have a closer look at the mosaics adorning the basilica, as well as a terrace offering panoramic views on St. Mark’s Square.
Treasury of St. Mark’s Basilica
The Treasury of St. Mark’s Basilica (€3) exhibits a collection of liturgical objects, icons, ancient remains, relics and silverware, the majority of which was brought to Venice after the sack of Constantinople.
Getting to St. Mark’s Basilica
St. Mark’s Basilica is located in the very centre of Venice, on St. Mark’s Square, a stone’s throw from the Doge’s Palace and the Venetian lagoon.
The nearest vaporetto stations are San Zaccaria and San Marco, just a few hundred metres away.
👉 You can book your vaporetto tickets here.
The basilica is open:
- late October to mid-April: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, and 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Sundays
- mid-April to late October: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays
Admission and guided tours of St. Mark’s Basilica
Admission to St. Mark’s Basilica is free, but you’ll have to buy tickets to access the Pala d’Oro (2 euros), the museum (5 euros) and the treasury (3 euros).
Be warned: the city of Venice is very touristy and the queue to access St. Mark’s Basilica can be quite long. To avoid waiting too long, Captain Ulysses recommends:
- that you get up early to start queuing before the opening of the Basilica
- or that you opt for a skip-the-line ticket, which can be booked online.
When visiting the basilica, there’s a lot to see! If you don’t want to miss anything, Captain Ulysses suggests opting for:
- an audioguide available in French, English, German, Spanish, Italian and Russian
- a guided tour including skip-the-line access to the Basilica
- or a guided tour of the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica including skip-the-line accesses to both monuments
Before visiting St. Mark’s Basilica
Please note that proper dress is required to enter St. Mark’s Basilica. Make sure your shoulders and legs are covered (you can bring a scarf or a shawl if you are wearing shorts or a tank top).
Backpacks are not allowed inside the basilica. Free lockers are available at the Ateneo San Basso, in an alley located to the right of the basilica.
👉 Skip the lines: book your tickets and visits in Venice!
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