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 Essential Architecture-  Venice

St. Mark's




Venice, Italy






masonry and timber frame domes 


St Mark's Basilica (Italian: Basilica di San Marco in Venezia) is the most famous of the churches of Venice and one of the best known examples of Byzantine architecture. It lies on St Mark's Square, adjacent and connected to the Doge's Palace and has been the seat of the Patriarch of Venice, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice since 1807.

Early history
The first St Mark's was a temporary building in the Doge’s Palace, constructed in 828, when Venetian merchants acquired the supposed relics of Saint Mark the Evangelist from Alexandria. This was replaced by a new church on its present site in 832. The new church was burned in a rebellion in 976, rebuilt in 978 and again to form the basis of the present basilica in 1063.

The present building
The church is based on a Greek cross floorplan, based in part on the Hagia Sophia and the Basilica of the Apostles, both in Constantinople. It has a raised choir with a crypt beneath. The plan of the interior consists of three longitudinal and three transverse naves. Over the high altar is a baldacchino on columns decorated with eleventh-century reliefs; the altarpiece is the famous Pala d'Oro (Golden Pall) [1], Byzantine metal-work of the year 1105, originally designed for an antependium. Behind the high altar is another altar with alabaster columns. The choir stalls are embellished with inlaying by Fra Sebastiano Schiavone, and above them on both sides are three reliefs by Sansovino. On the two marble pulpits of the ambo are statuettes by the Massegne brothers (1394). Also in the choir are Sansovino's bronze statues of the Evangelists and Caliari's of the Four Doctors.

The basilica was consecrated in 1094, the same year as in which the body of Saint Mark was supposedly rediscovered in a pillar by Vitale Falier, doge at the time. The crypt then housed the relics until 1811. The building also incorporates a low tower, believed by some to have been part of the original Doge's Palace.

The spacious interior of the building with its multiple choir lofts was the inspiration for the development of a Venetian polychoral style among the composers appointed maestro di cappella at St Mark's.

While the basic structure of the building has been little altered, its decoration changed greatly over time. The succeeding centuries, especially the fourteenth, all contributed to its adornment, and seldom did a Venetian vessel return from the Orient without bringing a column, capitals, or friezes, taken from some ancient building, to add to the fabric of the basilica. Gradually, the exterior brickwork became covered with various marbles and carvings, some much older than the building itself.(see 4 tetrarchs, below) A new frontage was constructed and the domes were covered with higher wooden domes in order to blend in with the Gothic architecture of the redesigned Doge's Palace.

Inside, the walls were covered with mosaics, in a mixture of Byzantine and Gothic styles, while the floor is a twelfth century mixture of mosaic and marble in geometric patterns and animal designs. The mosaic contains gold, bronze, and the greatest variety of stones. The mosaics of the narthex show Old Testament narratives including a fine series showing the creation, on the right hand dome; inside the basilica, New Testament themes are shown, with marked Byzantine influence - the main domes show Pentecost, the Ascension, and the Pantocrator.

The Roman Horses
The Horses of Saint Mark were installed on the basilica in about 1254. They date to Classical Antiquity; by some accounts they once adorned the Arch of Trajan. The horses were long displayed at the Hippodrome of Constantinople, and in 1204 Doge Enrico Dandolo sent them back to Venice as part of the loot sacked from Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade. They were taken by Napoleon in 1797 but restored in 1815 and remained in place until the 1990s and now sit in an exhibition room, the horses now on the facade of the cathedral being no more than bronze replicas.

"The Four Tetrarchs"
As the Roman Empire begun the process of disintegration, Emperor Diocletian imposed a new Imperial office structure: a four co-emperor ruling plan called "The Tetrarch". This porphyry (purple marble) statue represents the inter-dependence of the four rulers. It was salvaged by Venetian forces, during the 1453 Fall of Constantinople, and set into the corner of the basilica at the level of the Piazza San Marco.

The Four Tetrarchs in compatible 3D.