St. Mark’s Basilica (Venice, Italy)


The arched portals at the front of St. Mark’s Basilica

St. Mark’s Basilica is one of the most recognizable places in Venice, if not as the church of the Catholic Archdiocese of Venice, then surely for the tens of thousands of pigeons that flock around its plaza. The cathedral has a commanding presence in the square, once the Doge’s chapel but now an ornate cathedral. The exterior is a strange, eclectic combination of architectural styles (including Gothic and Romanesque with Egyptian flourishes) but its predominant motif is Byzantine with characteristic domes on top (photo immediately below). There also is a hodgepodge of marble used both inside and outside that might make a modern designer cringe. Note the use of a variety of marble in the columns and archways in the photo above.

True to its Eastern orthodox influence, the cathedral’s floor plan is in the shape of a Greek cross with the largest dome over the center and one over the end of each of the four arms. Impressive inside are the intricate mosaics, much of them covered in gold leaf, all telling Christian stories and events, and extensive use of gilding on the frescoes that makes the interior shine. No picture-taking was allowed of the interior.

Pigeons of St. Mark’s Square

No experience at St. Mark’s square would be completely without the pigeons. It is estimated that 100,000 birds make Venice their home. Bird seed can be purchased from vendors in the square. It was funny to watch tourists shield their heads when the pigeons took flight.

In order to visit the famed glass studios, most tourists take a boat to Murano. Murano glass is known for its clarity and vibrant designs. Genuine pieces can get to be very expensive. Our guide took us to a studio near St. Mark’s (Galleria San Marco), where we watched a glass-blowing maestro fashion a vase and a horse. The tour concluded with the obligatory sales pitch. With their ornamentation, gold-leaf embroidery and Arabic-influenced designs, the glassworks were not to our taste (let alone pocketbook), but we did purchase a simple animal piece as a gift.

Murano glass works at Galleria San Marco

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