St. Marks Basilica is the Cathedral for the City of Venice. It is also one of the most famous buildings in the world!
It forms the entire western side of St. Marks Square and is directly connected to the Doges Palace. It began life as little more than a Chapel for the Doge and was constructed around 828 AD at which time Venetian merchants are said to have stolen the remains of St. Mark from Alexandria. A new church was built in 832 and was the first to have a separated campanile. This was destroyed in 972 and rebuilt again in 978.
In 1063 the Basilica was rebuilt, this time on a grander scale to reflect the vast riches of the Venetian State. It is this version that forms the basis of todays church. In 1094 the remains of St. Mark were conveniently found entombed in a pillar conveniently because it just so happened to be the year the new Basilica was consecrated. In the first half of the 13th Century the narthex and façade were constructed and the domes were enlarged to reflect the work being undertaken on the Doges Palace at the time.
Since this time the basic Basilica has remained the same. However, successive generations of Doges have added their own little embellishments to the Cathedral with various marbles and carvings, many of which were pillaged from the near East by Venetian traders. The last major additions being St. Isidors Chapel (1300s), the carvings on the façade (1400s) and the Zen Chapel (1500s).
The famous horses of St. Mark were installed around 1254. It is thought they once adorned Trajans Arch in Rome and date to antiquity. Napoleon in turn stole them and took them to Paris in 1797 but they were returned in 1815. The originals are now in St. Marks Museum, those on the façade of the Cathedral are now bronze copies.
The famous campanile (Bell Tower) of St. Marks which stands close to the Cathedral in the Square dates to 832. It is 323 feet tall and one of the most famous buildings in the world. In 1489 the existing campanile was nearly destroyed by fire and so was rebuilt in the style we recognise now, reaching its present height around 1514. It suffered over the centuries from the poor ground upon which Venice is built. In 1653 Baldassare Longhena attempted to shore the campanile up. In 1745 there was a fire and more work was undertaken to keep it standing, however several people were killed by falling masonry.
In 1902 the north wall began to show signs of serious cracks and despite desperate attempts to stop it on July 14 1902 the campanile collapsed entirely, killing the caretakers cat but inflicting no other casualties. It was one of the first occasions when the world at large knew about Venices sinking problems.
The same evening 500,000 Lire were put aside to reconstruct the campanile to the exact plan it had before the collapse (albeit with stronger foundations). This work was completed in 1912.
St. Marks Square is one of the greatest ensembles of buildings anywhere on Earth and is without a doubt the treasure of Venice a city full of treasures.
Photo - Andrew J. Müller
Back to Cathedrals, Churches, Abbeys etc... page
© Text copyright - Raving Loony Productions and Andrew J. Müller,
and Shaun Runham
© Photos and Artwork - Andrew J. Müller
© Web Design and Layout - Andrew J. Müller