As a tourist, when visiting Venice, Italy you want to see the sites, eat the cuisine, hear the music, and travel in a gondola… However there is one site you must see and that is Saint Mark’s Basilica and Square. Why you ask? Because of the history the basilica represents or simply for its beauty or the fact that Saint Mark’s Square is the heart of Venice and the center of many other sites and monuments. In this presentation I’ll examine the history of Saint Mark’s Basilica and Square, their structure, and ways of travel.
To help us understand the importance of Saint Mark’s Basilica and Square we need to know a little bit more about Saint Mark. According to the Bible we know that Mark was one of the twelve disciples that walked with Jesus and followed his ministry and eventually wrote about his experience in the gospel of Mark. Saint Mark also went on to preach the gospel to many places, such as, Rome and Cyrus. Mark had a church built in Alexandria, Egypt but was later persecuted and killed. As his murders were attempting to destroy the remain of his body a violent storm broke out and the killers fled. Some men took his remains, after the storm passed, and placed them in a tomb that became a famous santuary.
According to the basilica’s site, remnants of Saint Mark were taken from Alexandria, Egypt and brought to Venice Italy in the year 828. The story is that two merchants stole his remains and then concealed them in a barrel with pork and cabbage to get pass Islamic guards. The relics were praised. Not only were the relics an economic attraction but also the Venetians believed that God had chosen Venice as the Saint’s Mark resting place since apparently an angel had visited the evangelist at the lagoon.
Construction for a new church was soon underway. However the church was burned to the ground in the year 976 during a rebellion and rebuilt a couple of years later. In 1063 it was decided that the basilica would be rebuilt and the project wasn’t complete until 1094. Before Saint Mark’s remains were placed in their new home they went missing. The city of Venice was devastated and they prayed, fasted, and wept for days. Saint Mark revealed to the bishop, the doge, and many bystanders the location of his body by extending an arm from the pillar where it lay. None the less the saint’s body was found and then housed in the new basilica.
Originally, Saint Mark’s Square was simply the area in front of Saint Mark’s Basilica. However, in 1177 it was enlarged to it’s present square shape when the dock and the canal, Rio Batario, where filled in. These changes were brought about for the meeting of the pope Alexander the III and Emperor Fredrick Barbarossa. On July 24th, 1177 Emperor Barbarossa accepted Alexander as pope there in Venice, Italy. History was made in Saint Mark’s Square as the emperor recognized the power of the pope and the Church. Saint Mark’s square has been the center of Venice the location of many festivals, public executions and other events for years.
Saint Mark’s Basilica is designed after Constantine’s Church of the Holy Apostles and thus is in the shape of a Greek cross (the floor plan) and then covered with five domes. The domes are supported by five large arches. Inside, the walls and ceilings are covered with mosaics. The mosaics depict events of both the Old and New Testaments. They also include stories about the Virgin Mary, St. Peter, St. John the Baptist and, of course, St. Mark. These mosaics cover over 8,000 square meters.
Some other sites within the basilica is the Pala d’Oro which is panel of gold embedded with thousands of gems. It serves as rather an altar to St. Mark. Besides this prize, the Treasury which you would find by the main altar is a collection of valuable materials from Crusades and varies other conquests. On the left there is a picture of the Horses of Saint Mark. They are a symbol of the Venetian Republic, having been taken from Constantinople in the Fourth crusade. Put in the basilica about 1254, they now can be seen the basilica’s museum.
Saint Mark’s Square resides on the bank of the Grand Canal. When you walk into the square from the dock you find two columns with statues of St. Theodore (patron before St. Mark) and St. Mark’s symbol of a winged lion. The square is lined with apartments where government officials live. On the eastern side of the square you will find Saint Mark’s Basilica. The watch tower on the right is called the Campanile which is 314 ft high. Apparently Galileo used this tower for his work.
Currently, the square is full of tourists, pigeons, and music. One of the attractions being that tourists feed the pigeons. Walking is practically a must once at the square since there are no streets in Venice only footpaths. To get to Saint Mark’s Square you can go by boat. The classic boat being the gondola which is very popular among tourists. Other forms of water transportation besides gondolas and private boats is the waterbus and the water taxi. The waterbus is typically geared toward public transportations while the water taxi is more private and more expense.
Now that we know the history, the structure, and the way of travel for Saint Mark’s Square and Basilica we have many reasons to see this site when we go to Venice, Italy. For Saint Mark’s Square is truly the heart of Venice and to its east stands Saint Mark’s Basilica a symbol of Venice and its history. Who wouldn’t want to see such a magnificent site?