Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark's Basilica)
The design and the architectural style for Basilica di San Marco, complete with five mosque-like domes, was inspired from Constantinople. To honor the patron saint of Venice, from a small chapel, through the centuries, predominantly the 11th c., wealthy Venetian merchants and politicians have been donating gifts to expand and enhance the beauty of this church, the saint's final resting place and have also constructed the adjoining Palazzo Ducale. This church is more grand and unique than any other Roman Catholic Church. It is also known as Chiesa d'Oro or the Golden Church. It has a vast interior exquisitely gilded with Byzantine mosaics added over the period of 7 centuries. These mosaics cover every inch of both ceiling and pavement. One can go the Galleria upstairs for a better look at these amazing ceiling mosaics and the Oriental carpet like patterns of the pavement mosaics. The Galleria was originally the women's gallery or matroneum. It is also the only way to access the outside Loggia dei Cavalli. One can also view the renowned Triumphal Quadriga of four gilded bronze horses here. It was brought to Venice from Constantinople in 1204, together with the Lion of St. Mark (mascot of the patron saint and the former republic) and other valuables from the Crusades. The restored originals are on display inside to the small museum.
The outdoor Loggia dei Cavalli provides a superb view of the piazza and the quadriga, which Napoleon said, upon his arrival in Venice in 1797, was the "the most beautiful salon in the world". The 500-year-old Torre dell'Orologio (Clock Tower) stands on the right and on the left is the Campanile (Bell Tower), and beyond, the glistening waters of the open lagoon and Palladio's Chiesa di San Giorgio on its own island.
The marvelous altarpiece known as the Pala d'Oro or Golden Altarpiece is the church’s greatest wealth. It is a Gothic masterpiece encrusted with approximately 2,000 precious gems and 255 enameled panels. It was made in the 10th century and was decorated by Venetian and Byzantine artisans between the 12th and 14th centuries. It is placed behind the main altar, which covers the tomb of St. Mark. It is also very interesting to view the Tesoro (Treasury), which is a collection of the Crusaders' loot from Constantinople and various other icons and relics that have collected by the church over the years. Most of the booty from Venice has been used to decorate the interior and exterior of the basilica in the form of marble, columns, capitals, and statues. Madonna di Nicopeia, second in importance to the Pala d'Oro, is a 10th-century bejeweled icon taken from Constantinople and exhibited in its own chapel to the left of the main altar. She is regarded to be one of the protective patrons of present-day Venice.
The guards at the cathedral's entrance will deny entry to those in inappropriate attire i.e. shorts, sleeveless shirts and shirts revealing the midriff and skirts above the knee. The Basilica is open Sunday morning for those who wish to attend Mass, but is not open for tourists until later.
Hours : Basilica, Tesoro, and Pala d'Oro: summer Mon-Sat 9:45am-5pm; Sun 2-5pm (in winter usually closes an hour earlier).
Museo Marciano: summer daily 9:45am-5pm (in winter usually closes an hour earlier
Location: San Marco, Piazza San Marco
Prices: Basilica, free admission; Museo Marciano (St. Mark's Museum, also called La Galleria, includes Loggia dei Cavalli), 1.50€ ($1.95); Tesoro (Treasury), 2€ ($2.60)