St. Mark's Basilica

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St. Mark's Basilica 2004 (before the pigeon feeding ban)
The five domes of St. Mark's Basilica: main dome over the crossing and four domes over the cross arms

The St. Mark's Basilica ( Italian Basilica di San Marco ) in Venice , the central state sanctuary was the Republic of Venice until its end in 1797 and is since 1807 the Cathedral of the Patriarch of Venice , since 25 March 2012, Francesco Moraglia . It is located on St. Mark's Square in the San Marco sestiere .


The mosaic of the Porta Sant'Alipio is the only remaining mosaic from the Middle Ages on the west facade. It shows the transfer of the bones of St. Mark in the cathedral in the presence of the bishop and the doge . The facade of the Markuskirche in the background is shown with the most important characteristics of its shape in the 2nd half of the 13th century.

The first church consecrated to St. Mark was donated in 828 and built in the years 829 to 832 as the palace chapel of the Doge's Palace under the Doge Giovanni I. Particiaco to receive the remains of the evangelist Mark, stolen from Alexandria in 828 , who replaced St. Theodore as the city ​​saint of Venice . The change of the city patron was also a sign of independence from Byzantium.

In 976 the church and 200 houses were destroyed by a fire in the Doge's Palace by insurgents. In the same year, the rebuilding of the second church began under Doge Pietro I Orseolo . Today's St. Mark's Basilica was built in 1063-1094 as a foundation by Doge Domenico Contarini . According to legend, the bones of St. Mark found again by a miracle on June 25, 1094. This day became the Inventio Sancti Marci holiday .

In the 13th century the domes of St. Mark's Church were raised, the northern vestibule - facing away from the Doge's Palace - added and the western front facing St. Mark's Square redesigned as a column facade. Since then, the domes can be seen from St. Mark's Square. The northern vestibule was built between 1231 and 1253 based on the Byzantine model. In the second half of the 14th century, a third phase of construction took place, which changed the building in line with the Venetian Gothic . This construction and decoration phase extended into the 17th century, and the date of completion is often 1617.

2 euro commemorative coin, Italy 2017

Therefore, a 2 euro commemorative coin was issued on the 400th anniversary .

Through the centuries until the end of the Republic of Venice, it was their declared aim to keep the episcopal see of the Patriarch of Venice far from the center of power in San Pietro di Castello . The quadriga above the main portal, which comes from Constantinople, was replaced by copies in 1982, and the entire building was restored until 1994.


St. Mark's Basilica floor plan
upper facade with Constantine and Demetrius on the arches
The horses of San Marco (copy)
Interior from the gallery above the main entrance

San Marco's building design follows models from Byzantine architecture : an uneven Greek cross forms the floor plan (76.5 m long and 62.6 m wide). The western arm is wider and longer. In addition to the crossing, the cross arms are also vaulted by domes (45 m high). The crossing dome and the western dome are larger than the remaining three domes. The close connection between Venice and Byzantium meant that the artists involved in the construction work mainly based on Byzantine models. The model might have been the Justinian Apostle Church in Constantinople (536-546), which no longer exists today . So San Marco deliberately does not follow any newer buildings of its own time, but the more dignified, original form. San Marco brought the idea of ​​the large domed central building to Italy and thus became a model for the much later large domed buildings by Bramante and Michelangelo . The additions of the 13th century were made in the Byzantine style, those of the 14th century in the Gothic style.

To get to the basilica from St. Mark's Square, you have to go down a few steps. This subsidence of the ground, which is currently 23 cm, affects not only St. Mark's Church, but all of Venice's old districts.


The main facade, divided into two floors, represents the claim of San Marco as the state church of Venice and is at the same time a sign of the triumph over Constantinople at the crusade of 1204 . The facade is structured by five portals with mosaic-decorated arches and corresponding arches on the top floor, of which the four lateral ones also have mosaic decorations. The overhanging mosaics above the four side portals tell the legend of the rescue and transfer of the bones of St. Markus to San Marco (see picture) where "rescue and transfer" are more of a euphemism, so a glossing over name for theft. The northern portal is the oldest and only surviving portal from the 13th century, the Porta Sant'Alipio, on which the view of St. Mark's Basilica is handed down in the 13th century. Above the central portal of the five impressive portals, the Last Judgment is shown based on the model by Lattanzio Querenas (1836). The archivolts of this central portal were carved in the 13th century and depict the Venetian guilds, the twelve signs of the month and allegories of the virtues . The four lateral upper arches are crowned with leaf decorations and each with relief busts of the prophets in the arch gusset. The city saints of Venice stand on the arches: Constantine , Demetrius , Markus (1420), Georg and Theodor .

In the pediment of the central, larger arch below the statue of St. Mark, there is a gold relief of the lion of St. Mark , both republican symbols.

The impression of the facade is further determined by the rich decoration with marble cladding, the countless antique columns made of marble, porphyry, jasper, serpentine and alabaster and many sculptures from different eras. The 2600 columns, often antique, were largely collected during conquests (e.g. those of Byzantium during the Crusade in 1204) and reused as spolia in San Marco . Most of the time they do not have a supporting function, but are used for decoration and as symbols for the power of Venice; so the Akritan pillars in front of the south portal, which come from the Polyeuktosbasilika .

According to the Byzantine model, the St. Mark's Church received the northern vestibule (62 m long, 6 m wide, 7.35 m high), which is vaulted by eight smaller domes, in 1231–1253.

In view of the damage caused by flocks of pigeons by nibbling on the calcareous building fabric for their nutrition and by excretions, the city issued a feeding ban in early May 2008. The prohibited, previously legal feeding, which was even forced by the food sellers on St. Mark's Square, drastically reduced the pigeon population on St. Mark's Square.

San Marco horses

The gallery on the upper floor is dominated by a copy of the famous antique four-horse carriage made of gilded bronze, which, like many of the columns and some sculptures, were stolen in Constantinople in 1204. The four horses of San Marco on the loggia of San Marco, formerly part of a quadriga , are the only surviving antique team of four. After restoration and examination in the 1960s, it was exhibited in the Museo Marciano and replaced by copies on the facade of San Marco. The Quadriga originated at the beginning of the 1st century AD. Its place of origin between Rome, Greece and Alexandria has not been clarified. It was originally located on the triumphal arch of Emperor Nero in Rome. Emperor Constantine the Great took it to Constantinople, where it was placed in the Hippodrome and taken to Venice as spoils of war during the Fourth Crusade during the conquest of Constantinople in 1204 . For this, they might have their heads removed and later put back on incorrectly.

During the restoration of the horses, it was noticeable that the gold covering of the 1.60 meter tall and 875 kg heavy sculptures had been scratched centuries ago so that the horses would not dazzle too much in the sun and make a more lifelike impression. It was also found that the Quadriga was not made of common bronze , as was believed for centuries, but almost entirely of copper , which is much more difficult to melt than bronze, but can be gilded more easily. Each figure was cast in only two parts, the seam line of which hides the collar.

In Venice, the horses stood in front of the arsenal for a few decades and almost had been melted down before they became aware of their importance in time and placed them on the facade of St. Mark's Basilica. In 1798, after his victorious Italian campaign and the elimination of the republic , Napoleon had numerous works of art from galleries and collections brought to Paris, as well as the two landmarks of the Serenissima di San Marco , the Lion of St. Mark and the four golden horses. There the horses adorned the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel from then on . As a result of the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the looted property was able to return to its historic location in Venice , now Austria, in the presence of Emperor Franz I and State Chancellor Metternich . In Paris they were replaced by copies of François Joseph Bosio .

Interior and mosaics

The creation story mosaic in the narthex

The church interior is divided into three naves by four mighty pillars and six columns. The five domes rest on the pillars. The transept arms are also laid out with three naves.

The spatial effect is impressive: while the floor is littered with ornamental mosaics made of marble and the wall in the lower areas is clad with slabs of all kinds of marble, the upper wall areas and the entire ceiling are covered with mosaics with a gold background.


The entire interior of San Marco is a highlight of the mosaic art of the West . The mosaics on a gold background earned the cathedral the name "Golden Basilica". The work began under the doge Domenico Silvo (1071-1084). Most of the mosaics, however, were made in the 13th century. Some - especially on the facade - were replaced in the 16th to 18th centuries according to designs from the schools of Titian and Tintoretto and others, although the old pictorial program was probably retained. The mosaics cover an area of ​​more than 8000 m² and thus form one of the largest contiguous mosaic areas in the world. (The Russian Orthodox “Church on the Blood” in Saint Petersburg has a total area of ​​7,000 m² of mosaic). The mosaicists covered a total of 4,240 m².


The actual structure of San Marco is brick. One or two layers of cement slurry were then applied. A colored sketch of the planned scene was applied to the still wet plaster , then the individual mosaic stones (tessarae) were laid in, whereby the stones were pressed two-thirds of their height into the mortar. For the production of the tessarae plates made of colored glass flux were used instead of colored stones as in antiquity . Gold and silver foils were also melted into colorless glass. Often they were given different angles of inclination in order to bring the play of light reflexes to life.

Image program of the mosaics

The pictorial program of the mosaics of San Marco represents a course through the entire salvation history of Christianity, permeated by the political self-staging of the Serenissima. In some cases, scaled-down images were used as templates. B. Miniatures from old manuscripts. Despite many renewals over the centuries, the original pictorial program is likely to have been largely preserved.

Mosaic in the main apse with the patron saint

The apse mosaic shows the (renewed) Christ Pantocrator and under him those holy patrons of the city who still belong to the first mosaic cycle from the time of Domenico Silvos, and of which the St. Mark's Church has relics according to the inscription: Nicolaus , Petrus , Markus , Hermagor .

Pentecost dome

In the east above the choir is the dome of the prophets. From here, with the announcement of the Redeemer by the prophets around Mary, the history of salvation with redemption takes its course. The central dome, the Ascension Dome from the second half of the 12th century, shows the risen Christ in a star-studded light aura that is touched by four angels. Under Christ stands Mary, flanked by the Archangels Gabriel (?) And Michael , in the circle of the twelve apostles. Allegorical figures, including allegories of virtue, are depicted between the dome windows . The four evangelists and the four currents of Paradise are depicted in the spandrels of the dome .

The western Pentecostal dome with the Holy Spirit on its head, sending tongues of fire onto the enthroned Twelve Apostles , was probably built in the last third of the 12th century. The representatives of the peoples in their typical costumes, arranged in pairs between the domed windows, symbolize the sending of the apostles by the Holy Spirit according to the texts of the Acts of the Apostles .

In the two side aisles , the most important events from the lives of the apostles are shown. In the left aisle the mosaics were renewed in the 16th and 17th centuries, in the right one can still see the original mosaics from the 12th and 13th centuries.

The narthex is decorated with mosaics from the 13th century. These show scenes from Genesis from creation to the exodus from Egypt .

The baptistery of San Marco in the southern part of the vestibule was also richly decorated with mosaics in the 14th century. According to the function of the room, the story of John the Baptist is presented here. The scene with the dance of Salome , who swings the head of John around her, is famous ( Mk 6.27  29 ).

In the side chapels of San Clemente and San Pietro, on the west wall of the south transept, in the Cappella Zen and in the overhangs of the west facade, there are picture cycles or individual scenes from the legend of St. Mark. Their representations often express secular and ecclesiastical claims, and Venice is portrayed as the chosen city of the saint.

The choir screen with figures by JuP Dalle Massegne (1394)


One of the most famous pieces of equipment in the church is the gold antependium of the high altar, the so-called Pala d'oro . In front of the choir is the iconostasis with figures of the apostles, Marie, John and a triumphal cross by Dalle Masegne from 1394. To the left of the iconostasis, the double pulpit from the 14th century, which is composed of various materials, below the octagonal Romanesque pulpit for the Annunciation of the Gospel, above the Byzantine pulpit with dome, presumably for the sermon. On the right the lower pulpit or choir gallery. Jacopo Sansovino noted in 1581 that these pulpits were built “alla usanza greca” (“according to Greek custom”). The Gospel is read out on the two-story north pulpit and preached on high feast days, while the newly elected doge is presented to the people in the south pulpit.

Music at San Marco

For a long time San Marco was one of the most important musical institutions in Venice, the influence of which was noticeable throughout Europe (see also Venetian School / Venetian Polychoir ). Composers at St. Mark's Basilica included Adrian Willaert , Cypriano de Rore , Gioseffo Zarlino , Claudio Merulo , Andrea Gabrieli , Giovanni Gabrieli , Giovanni Croce , Claudio Monteverdi , Francesco Cavalli .

Today's organ in St. Mark's Basilica was built in 1909 by the Fabbrica d'organi Mascioni (Azzio, Varese, Italy). The instrument has 12 registers on two manuals and pedal and has pneumatic action .

I Grande Organo C – a 3
1. Principals 16 ′
2. Principals 8th'
3. Dolce 8th'
4th Ottava 4 ′
5. Duplicate 2 23
6th Ripieno IV
II Organo Espressivo C – a 3
7th Gamba 8th'
8th. Bordone 8th'
9. Coro viole 8th'
10. Flauto Viennese 4 ′
Pedals C – f 1
11. Contrabasso 16 ′
12. Basso 8th'


Integrated at the corner of the cathedral at the Porta della Carta is the group of tetrarchs stolen from Constantinople in 1204 . It dates from around 30000. These are porphyry statues of the late Roman ruler Diocletian and his co-rulers Maximian , Constantius I and Galerius , statues that were made several times during the reign of the four emperors, the tetrarchs (293-313) . The left foot of the right imperial figure was added from the lower leg probably in the 18th or 19th century, as can be easily seen. Excavation work on the Myrelaion , the church and the imperial palace of Romanos Lekapenos (920-944) in the Istanbul district of Aksaray uncovered a shoe and foot fragment in 1963 under the direction of Rudolf Naumann , the first director of the German Archaeological Institute Istanbul Venice is missing piece. The fragment is in the possession of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum and is exhibited in the Constantinopolitan City History Department, established in 1999. In 2010 a marble sample and a plastic copy were used to determine whether the foot belonged to the tetrarchs. The result was still pending at the end of October 2010.

This group is important not only because of its rarity. In the history of late antique sculpture, we have before us a fundamental change in the conception of portraits of rulers in general, namely a change from a representation focused on majesty - see the well-known ruler's sculptures of Julius Caesar or Augustus - to a completely new kind of internalization for whom the body is no longer a natural means of expressing power. This marked the path to early Christian and Byzantine art . In contrast to the Roman art of the late republic and early imperial times, naturalness receded again in late antiquity, for which the tetrarchs are exemplary. The figures are clearly shaped by oriental currents that were oriented towards frontality.


The Campanile of San Marco

The 98.6 meter high campanile of San Marco is called the Paron di casa , the master of the house , by the Venetians . Its current appearance was created between 1511 and 1514.

What can be seen today is no longer the original from that time, because as a result of the attempt to install a lift, the campanile collapsed on July 14, 1902 at 9:55 a.m. without injuring a single person or Damaging a neighboring structure - with the exception of the Loggetta, which was completely destroyed. Dangerous cracks in the masonry had already shown, so that one was warned.

Allegedly, an Italian photographer claims to have tried out his camera right now, of all times, and taken a historical photo that got through the press. At that time, however, this was found more than by chance, examined the photo negative more closely and actually found traces of a not particularly sophisticated retouching.

The campanile was then reconstructed using the old stones from 1903 to 1912. It can be climbed with the help of an elevator.

On the top floor hangs a five-part historical bronze ringing the main beat tone sequence a 0 , h 0 , c sharp 1 , d 1 and e 1 .


The Loggetta

The Loggetta, the small box at the foot of the Campanile, is a gem in itself. It was built from 1537 to 1549 by Jacopo Sansovino , the main master of the High Renaissance in Venice, who built a lot for the city. Sansovino was also responsible for ensuring that St. Mark's Square, which had been built up until then, was given its spacious design. The Renaissance architecture in Venice often has a more decorative character than the corresponding forms in Florence, it is not as austere and strict as Brunelleschi, for example, and it has not dispensed with the copious use of columns here either.

A tree motif on the narrow side of the loggetta, which is typical of Venetian architecture, is particularly decorative compared to the main facade: a refined and very harmonious combination of different arches. The continuous cornice on the main side is broken up here by an arched opening, which is accompanied by smaller rectangular openings, which in turn are crowned by a semi-arch. This group of three is covered by a large semicircle, which also covers a circular shape over the central portal. Such arch constructions will be seen again and again in the private palaces. They belong to the Venetian tradition, are still related to Byzantine architecture and partly fit very well with the new building ideals of the Renaissance.


  • Giulia Campagnari: Gli altari della Basilica di San Marco: ricerche e ipotesi per la comprensione della fase medioevale , tesi di laurea, Università Ca 'Foscari, Venice 2015 ( online ).
  • Ennio Concina, Piero Codato, Vittorio Pavan: Churches in Venice , Munich 1996.
  • Friedrich Wilhelm Deichmann (Ed.): Corpus of the capitals of the Church of San Marco in Venice (research on art history and Christian archeology, volume 12) . With the collaboration of Joachim Kramer and Urs Peschlow , Wiesbaden 1981.
  • Otto Demus u. a .: San Marco - the mosaics, the light, the story. Munich 1994. (Pictures of the newly illuminated mosaics)
  • Giandomenico Romanelli (Ed.): Venice. Art and architecture. 2 volumes Cologne 1997.
  • Tudy Sammartini , Gabriele Crozzoli: Stone floors in Venice. Munich 2000. (Developments since the 9th century)
  • Ettore Vio (Ed.): San Marco. History, art and culture . Munich 2001.
  • Manfred Schuller , Karin Uetz: Progetti e procedere dell'adattamento architettonico della basilika di S.Marco nel Duecento: primi resultati della building research alla facciata north. In: Gherardo Ortalli, Giorgio Ravegnani, Peter Schreiner (eds.): Quarta Crociata. Venezia - Bisanzio - Impero Latino. Volume II, Venice 2006, ISBN 88-88143-74-2 , pp. 826-855.
  • Hansgerd Hellenkemper (ed.): The treasure of San Marco in Venice . Roman-Germanic Museum & Società Olivetti, Milan 1984

Web links

Commons : Basilica di San Marco  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. The basilica: political and religious function (, English) accessed on September 19, 2019.
  2. a b c Volker Herzner: The building history of San Marco and the rise of Venice to a great power. In: Wiener Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte. Volume 38, Böhlau, Vienna 1985, ISBN 3-205-08127-7 , pp. 1–58, here: p. 1 (online) , accessed on May 12, 2013.
  3. Online presence of St. Mark's Basilica, Essential chronology (, English) accessed on May 12, 2013.
  4. a b c Wolfgang Wolters: The Doge's Palace in Venice. Berlin / Munich 2010, p. 8.
  5. ^ Basilica San Marco
  6. Recovery ( memento of the original from October 4, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (, English) Retrieved July 28, 2013. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  7. ^ Institute for Modern and Contemporary History Research, Austrian Biographical Lexicon 1815–1950, Lattanzio Querena
  8. Ruth Spranger: The barbers in the Mestieri archivolte of San Marco in Venice. Reflections on the barber profession and the guilds in medieval Venice. In: Würzburg medical history reports. Volume 9, 1991, pp. 233-247.
  9. Erich Egg, Erich Hubala et al. (Arr.): Reclams Kunstführer. Northern Italy East. Stuttgart 1965, p. 686.
  11. ^ Società Olivetti and art book Berlin (ed.): The horses of San Marco. Frölich & Kaufmann, Berlin 1982, ISBN 3-88725-006-0 .
  12. ^ Walter Frodl : Idea and Realization: The Becoming of the State Preservation of Monuments in Austria . Böhlau, Vienna 1988, ISBN 3205051548 , p. 29.
  13. Basilica San Marco Mosaics ( Memento of the original dated February 2, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (English), accessed January 30. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  14. ^ Brucher: History of the Venetian Painting. From the mosaics in San Marco to the 15th century. Vienna
  15. More information about the organ of San Marco (PDF file; 20 kB)
  16. ^ Rudolf Naumann: The ancient rotunda at the Myrelaion and the palace of Romanos I. Lekapenos. In: Istanbul communications. 16 (1966), pp. 99-216, here: pp. 209-211.

Coordinates: 45 ° 26 ′ 4 ″  N , 12 ° 20 ′ 22 ″  E