St. Mark’s Basilica

St. Mark's Basilica Venice Architecture

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About the Architecture of St. Mark's Basilica Venice

The construction of the current St. Mark's Church began in 1063, but the foundations and some of the walls date back to an earlier church devoted to the saint. It was the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles in Constantinople that served as inspiration for the St. Mark's Basilica architecture being far larger than its predecessor. The new edifice followed the Greek cross plan, with the nave being somewhat longer than the transept. It was constrained on each end by the historical castle to the south and the Church of St. Theodore to the north.

At the cross's focal point and atop each of the four arms, five massive cupolas were built. There is a central cupola supported by four pillars and articulated into the design by spandrels and huge vaults. Two aisles and a nave make up each arm of the cross. A hundred years after the church was finished, the atrium and cupolas were added. The first part of the 14th century saw the addition of the baptistery on the southern end of the church. An ancient chapel, sheltering St. Mark's body for centuries, is located in the crypt (nave and two aisles with apse) below the presbytery and the side chapels.

The Exterior of St. Mark's Basilica Venice

Western Facade of Saint Marks Basilica
Western Facade

As far as St. Mark's Basilica architecture is concerned it’s front has two distinct levels. Five highly recessed portals alternate with huge piers on the western façade's lower register. Two levels of valuable columns, primarily loot from the Fourth Crusade, were eventually used to cover the entire bottom register. In keeping with Byzantine customs, the sculpture is mostly ornamental, serving solely to highlight the arches that enclose the doors. Narrow Romanesque bands, statues, and finely carved borders of foliage combine with figures inspired from Byzantine and Islamic traditions to make up the very restricted sculpture on the lower level, which complements the reliefs in the spandrels. The tympana over the two outermost portals, one north and one south, are the most affected by the orientation of the sun.

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Northern Facade of St. Mark's Basilica
Northern Facade

St. Mark's Basilica architecture comprises three symmetrical facades that radiate out from its lower body in the directions of the north, south, and west. The well-known Porta dei Fiori, also known as the "Door of Flowers," is a relief of the Nativity from the 13th century that can be found on the north facade, which faces Piazzetta dei Leoncini.

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Southern Facade
Southern Facade

A pair of ornate pillars known as the Pilastri Acritani stand in front of the building's southern front, which faces the Grand Canal. Porphyry sculptures of the Tetrarchy stand at this facade's corner, and a truncated Porphyry column known as Pietra del Bando also stands there. Rare marbles, treasures, and trophies adorn the southern façade, contributing to the ornate St. Mark's Basilica architecture. These include the so-called pillars of Acre, a monument of the four tetrarchs; set into the exterior wall of the treasury, and a porphyry imperial head perched on the balcony's south-western corner.

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Entry Hall of St. Mark's Basilica Venice (Zen Chapel)

St. Mark’s Basilica

Nothing is known about the original design of the southern entrance hall because it was redecorated around the thirteenth century when the adjacent narthex was also renovated. The story of Saint Mark's relics being brought from Alexandria, Egypt, to Venice is told in mosaics on the main façade, and this mosaic cycle in the barrel vault serves as an introduction to that story. Angelic confirmation of Mark's eventual burial in Venice that validates the Republic of Venice's claim to the relics is also represented. The apse above the entryway leading into the narthex was presumably decorated with the Virgin surrounded by angels. This theme was popular in middle-Byzantine churches, in the first part of the twelfth century, but was extensively restored in the nineteenth century.

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Interior of St. Mark's Basilica Venice

Chancel & Choir Chapels
Chancel & Choir Chapels

Gothic in style, the altar screen dates back to 1394 and completely encloses the chancel. It features statues of the Virgin Mary and Saint Mark, as well as the Twelve Apostles, with a silver and bronze Crucifix at its summit. The area that would be the external aisles in the other crossarms is instead occupied by the two choir chapels, one on either side of the chancel. These arches not only link the chancel to the nave, but they also help to support the dome overhead by providing additional barrel vaults. Saint Peter is honored at the northernmost choir chapel. Throughout history, this has been the primary location for the clergy, and an important part of St. Mark's Basilica interior. The events of Saint Mark's life, including the translatio, are shown in mosaics that decorate the vaults above the chapels. These artifacts are the earliest known record of the relocation of Saint Mark's remains to Venice.

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Side Altars & Chapels
Side Altars & Chapels

The faithful generally visited the transept's side altars. The original altar, located in the northern crossarm, was dedicated to John the Evangelist; the mosaics in the dome above depict the saint as an old man, surrounded by five vignettes from his life in Ephesus. St. John the Baptist's stone relief, installed on the crossarm's eastern wall in the 13th century. When the altar was finally committed in 1617 to the Madonna Nicopeia, a celebrated Byzantine image from the late eleventh/early twelfth century, it was likely then that the icon was relocated to its current location on the church's northern façade.

From 1348 to 1355, the Chapel of Saint Isidore was built in Venice to contain the relics of Saint Isidore of Chios, which had been forgotten for centuries after being delivered to the city by Doge Domenico Michiel from 1117 to 1130 upon his return from a military mission in the Aegean. In the liturgical calendar of Venice, the 16th of April was also designated as an annual feast. The Mascoli Chapel was dedicated in 1430 and decorated during the reign of Doge Francesco Foscari (1423-1457). The eponymous confraternity began using it in 1618.

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St. Mark’s Basilica
Baptistery

Baptistery, being an intrinsic part of St. Mark's Basilica interior was built during the reign of Doge Giovanni Soranzo, who reigned from 1312 to 1328 and whose grave may be found within the building. Doge Andrea Dandolo, who paid for the baptistery's elaborate ornamentation himself, is also buried there. Both the life of Saint John the Baptist and the infancy of Christ are depicted in the mosaics that adorn the walls of the ante-baptistery and the baptistery proper. Sansovino's bronze font stands in the center of the dome, and above it are several representations of the Apostles performing the sacrament of baptism for persons of different ethnicities, a homage to Christ's command to spread the Gospel to all nations.

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Sacristy
Sacristy

As the consulting architect and works manager, Giorgio Spavento created a new sacristy in 1486 that was linked to the choir chapel and the presbytery of Saint Peter. The original sacristy's whereabouts are unknown. Spavento's lone completed project also happened to be his first. It all started decorating in 1493. Antonio della Mola and his brother Paolo inlaid the cabinets used to store reliquaries, monstrances, vestments, as well as other liturgical artifacts and books, with scenes from the life of Saint Mark. Titian conceived of and oversaw the creation of the Old Testament prophet mosaics that adorn the vault of the dome, which were installed between 1524 and 1530.

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Dome
Dome

Each of the five domes constructed at the intersection and above the arms of the Greek cross has a diameter of nearly 13 meters and 16 windows. The gold mosaics inside the domes date to somewhere between 1160 and 1200 and literally enliven the St. Mark's Basilica architecture. The center dome represents Christ's ascension into heaven after his resurrection. Although the dome's iconography has some Western influence, the primary style is unmistakably Byzantine, representing Venice's powerful and lucrative trade ties to the Eastern Roman Empire.

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FAQ's

What is the Architectural style of St Mark's Basilica?

St. Mark's Basilica architecture is a perfect mix of Byzantine architecture and Italian Gothic architecture.

Why is St Mark's Basilica famous?

St. Mark's Basilica is well-known as a place of worship in Venice besides being renowned for housing the remains of Saint Mark himself.

Why was Saint Mark's Basilica built?

St. Mark's Basilica was constructed so that Venetian traders could bury Saint Mark's body, which had been smuggled in from Egypt.

Who built up the Saint Mark's Basilica?

Domenico Contarini is the architect who built Saint Mark's Basilica.

Is photography permitted inside St. Mark’s Basilica?

No, unfortunately! It is forbidden to take photographs or make videos inside the Basilica.