A first church dedicated to San Marco was built in 828 by Doge Giustiniano Partecipazio next to the Doge’s Palace, to house the relics of the Saint stolen, according to tradition, from Alexandria, Egypt, by two Venetian merchants.
This church replaced the previous Palatine chapel dedicated to the Byzantine Saint Theodore, built in correspondence with the current Piazzetta dei Leoncini, north of the current Basilica of San Marco.
The church, consecrated in 832, was destroyed by fire during the revolt of 976 against Doge Candiano IV, and was rebuilt in 978 by Doge Pietro I Orseolo.
The current basilica dates back to 1063, and was begun by Doge Domenico Contarini and continued by Domenico Selvo and Vitale Falier. The consecration of the basilica took place in 1094.
The golden mosaic decoration of the interior was completed at the end of the 12th century, while the narthex (atrium) which surrounds the entire western arm of the church was built in the first half of the 13th century. Also in the 13th century, the domes of the basilica were erected.
The external appearance of the basilica was completed only in the 15th century, with the decoration of the upper part of the facades. The Baptistery, the Chapel of Sant’Isidoro, the Sacristy and the Zen Chapel were built at the beginning of the 16th century. In 1617, with the arrangement of the two altars inside, the basilica was completed.
In 1807, the St. Mark’s Basilica became the Cathedral of Venice, a title previously held by the Church of San Pietro di Castello.
ART AND ARCHITECTURE
The basilica measures 76.5 meters in lenght and 62.60 in width, in the transept area, while the central dome is 43 meters high. The facade has two orders, the lower one marked by five large splayed portals that lead to the internal atrium, and the upper one with a walkable terrace and four blind arches plus a central one in which there is a loggia which houses a sculptural quadriga (four horses).
The bronze doors date back to different periods – Porta di San Clemente, to the south, is Byzantine and dates back to the 11th century, the central one dates back to the 12th century, while the secondary doors are more recent.
Among the mosaics on the facade, the only remaining from the 13th century is the one above the first portal on the left, the Portal of Sant’Alipio, which depicts the entrance of the body of San Marco into the basilica. The others, damaged, were redone between the 17th and 19th centuries.
The basilica has a Greek cross plan with five domes placed in the center and along the axes of the cross, connected by arches. The aisles, three on each arm, are divided by colonnades that flow towards the massive pillars that support the domes.
The walls and pillars are completely covered, in the lower register, with polychrome marble slabs. The floor has a marble coating with geometric modules and animal figures.
The raised presbytery is separated from the rest of the basilica by an iconostasis, inspired by the Byzantine churches. It consists of eight columns in red marble, crowned by a tall crucifix and statues by Pier Paolo and Jacobello dalle Masegne.
The treasury of the basilica contains a unique collection of Byzantine objects in metalwork, enamel and hardstone, most brought from Constantinople after the Fourth Crusade.
HOW TO GET THERE
The closest vaporetto stop is San Zaccaria, located about 350 meters away, on the waterbus Lines 1, 2, 4.1, 4.2, 5.1, 5.2, 14, 15, 19, 20. To find the church on foot, follow the arrows per San Marco or use the map below.