This beautiful basilica, constructed on a Greek-cross plan and topped with 5 large domes, clearly reveals the influence of Byzantine architecture, which had been brought to Venice through the city’s intensive links with the East.
The current basilica is the third church to stand on this site. The first, constructed to enshrine the body of St. Mark, was destroyed by a fire. The second was pulled down within the eleventh century to make way for a more spectacular edifice, constructed to mirror the escalating power of the Venetian Republic. In 1807, St. Mark’s succeeded San Pietro within the administrative district of Castello as the cathedral of Venice; it had till then served as the doge’s chapel for state ceremonies.
PALA D’ORO – GOLDEN ALTAR SCREEN
Probably the most precious treasure held in St. Mark’s Basilica is the Pala d’Oro. This jewel-spangled altarpiece is located behind thectall altar, beyond the chapel of St. Clement. The Pala consists of 250 enamel paintings on gold foil, enclosed inside a silvergilt Gothic frame. The topics include scenes from the lifetime of Christ and the life of St. Mark. Begun in Byzantium in 976, the altarpiece was enlarged and embellished over the centuries. Following the tall of the Venetian Republic in 1797, Napoleon eliminated a few of the treasured stones, however the screen still gleams with jewels such as pearls, rubies, sapphires, and amethysts.
Though St. Mark’s Treasury was plundered after the Napoleonic invasion within the late 18th century, and much depleted by a tundraising sale of jewels within the early nineteenth century, it however possesses a valuable assortment of Byzantine silver, gold, and glasswork. At the moment, the treasures, 283 items in all, are mainly housed in a room with remarkably thick partitions believed to have been a ninth-century tower of the unique Doge’s Palace. A stairway from the basilica’s atrium leads up to the Museo Marciano, or church museum. There are splendid views of the basilica’s inside from the museum’s gallery and the Razza San Marco may be seen from the exterior loggia.