"St Mark's basilica clearly speaks of the power and riches of Venice in those times..."
If you’ve decided to see St. Mark's Basilica from the outside only – you will not be disappointed!
As you approach from the Piazzetta, you’ll already be dazzled by the golden glow of Saint Mark’s Cathedral.
As you find a good position in St. Mark’s square for taking photos and observing, take a look at it’s façade.
It clearly speaks of the power and riches of Venice in those times: it’s like a big puzzle composed out of bits and pieces brought (or more precisely, looted) from the 1204 conquest of Constantinople: columns, marbles, capitals and reliefs.
Right above the main entrance of St. Mark's Basilica, there’s a lunette with mosaics showing the Old Testament scenes.
On the left hand-side from the entrance, there are the only original mosaics (all the others are 17th and 18th Century restorations, based on the same pictures). They show the arrival of Saint Mark’s body to the Basilica.
This picture is considered one of the earliest presentations of the St. Mark's Basilica.
On the right hand-side from the main entrance, the mosaics show the story of Saint Mark being stolen from Alexandria.
If you lift your eyes a bit higher, you’ll see a lot of people on the “balcony”, taking photos of the square below. They are standing on the Loggia dei Cavalli.
It got its name from the bronze sculptures of four horses,
The Quadriga, that used to stand there. They were also brought as war booty from Constantinople during the 1204 crusade.
The horses you see out there today are replicas. The originals can be seen inside the Museum of Saint Mark’s which can be entered through the church.
Now notice its five huge domes on top, each with a little mini dome on top. Why exactly five domes, you might ask? The number five symbolized Christ and his 4 Evangelists.
Now, check out the little interesting detail on the right hand-side façade of the St. Mark's Basilica, the one looking towards the Doge’s Palace and the sea, is a sculpture of the Four Tetrarchs.
They were also brought as… yes, you guessed right, war booty from Constantinople. The Tetrarchs are little porphyry sculptures showing what are believed to be the Emperors Diocletian, Maximilian, Galerius and Constantius.
Inside St Marks Basilica
Before going into the Basilica di San Marco, make sure you read all the helpful tips in our article Basilica di San Marco.
Inside the central part of the church area, which is free to go into, you can enjoy the view of 4 square kilometers of mosaics!
When your neck gets sore from staring up at the cupolas, take note of the floors! They look like intricate stone Oriental carpets: from geometrical designs, to animal figures like peacocks, eagles, doves, roosters and foxes… the detailing is amazing!
If you would like to experience the Basilica to the fullest, you can also visit 3 different sights under the same roof.
There’s a separate fee for entering each one of those
mini-museums and you’ll be able to purchase the tickets right at the entrance into each separate area.
You can read more about admission fees in our article Basilica di San Marco.
The first one of the three mini-museums inside is:
1. TREASURY (TESORO)
If you’d like to see glass, metal work, silverware, icons, chalices, candleholders and crucifixes all decked out in enamel, semi-precious and precious stones – you’ll be happy you payed for the admission!
Also, if you like relics, don’t miss the relics room which is said to hold relics from Jesus’ Passion!
2. GOLDEN ALTARPIECE (PALA D’ORO)
Pala D’Oro is a Byzantine piece of work acquired as… no, this time you’re not right… not war booty! This piece was actually commissioned by one of the Doges.
Inside this altarpiece is also where the remains of Saint Mark rest, and the whole piece is actually a glorification of the Evangelist.
The Golden altarpiece is a magnificent golden wall made out of enamels with religious scenes set in gold and studded with rubies, emeralds, pearls, sapphires, amethysts and topazes.
If you can appreciate this amazing piece of handiwork, you’ll be happy to have visited this section of the cathedral.
3. SAN MARCO MUSEUM (MUSEO SAN MARCO, MUSEO MARCIANO)
If you’d like to visit this mini-museum remember that its entrance is actually before you enter the church itself, in the atrium.
The staircase will be on your right hand-side just by the main entrance to St. Mark's Basilica.
Now, if for nothing else, this part of the church is so worth visiting for its access to the Loggia dei Cavalli! Yes, that’s the part of the church outside where you can take some great shots of St Mark's square.
On the inside, you’ll also see those original Quadriga horses!
If you would like to study the basilica in detail and hear its story from a professional tourguide, you can always pre-book one of the tours online, too.
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