Look for the famous winged lion, the symbol of Venice, which perches on the upper part of the façade above the large central window.
A world-renowned Venetian landmark, St. Mark’s Basilica cannot fail to make an impression on the first time visitor. With its multiple domes, gold-laced façade and double layered columns, it represents a unique blend of Eastern and Western architectural styles, and sits in pride of place at the eastern end of St. Mark’s Square.
A Triumphant Grave-Robbing
During the city’s early centuries, Venetian merchants would frequently stop at Alexandria to pray at the tomb of their city’s patron saint, St. Mark the Evangelist. It seems that they eventually tired of making the journey, and in 828 the remains were stolen and brought back to Venice. The body was received triumphantly, since possessing the remains of the saint not only conferred enormous religious prestige on a city, but also substantial financial gains from the ensuing pilgrimages.
The doge ordered that a new church be built to house the remains of the city’s patron saint. This original basilica was burned to the ground during an uprising in 976, and the spectacular Byzantine-style building we can see today was not built until 1063. This was not the finished product, though, and the basilica owes much of its remarkable ornateness to several centuries-worth of additions to the façade. It is said that every time Venetian merchants made a trip to the Orient, they brought back a column or frieze or other ornamentation to decorate their church. Probably the most impressive feature of the basilica is its exquisite array of mosaics, which depict stories from the lives of Jesus and St. Mark himself. The finest of these is “The Last Judgement”, a beautiful gilded work which sits above the main portal.
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