The most visited site in Venice is St. Mark’s Basilica. It’s a must-see for any tourist to Italy. It has a rich history dating back to the 9th Century A.D. and is also filled with interesting legends and stories.
These are six amazing facts about St. Mark’s Basilica.
01. The story of kidnapping began the basilica’s history.
The first St. This spot was the first to be home to St. Merchants from Venice took the body of St. Mark, the Evangelist (one of the four Apostles), from Alexandria, Egypt in 828. They hid them in barrels of pork and layers of pork to get past (Muslim) guards.
A storm nearly drowned the graverobbers along with their valuable cargo while they were at sea. It is believed that St. Mark appeared to the captain to tell him to lower his sails. Merchants said that the miracle saved the ship.
As you enter the basilica, the entire story can be seen on the mosaic from the 13th century located above the left door.
02. It is enough to cover 1.5 American football pitches!
More than 85,000 square feet or 8,000 square metres of mosaic are found in St. Mark’s Basilica. That’s enough to cover 1.5 American football fields. It took 8 centuries to create the mosaics, mainly in gold. The result is amazing. You can visit the basilica at different hours of the day to observe how light affects the colors and scenes.
03. There are over 500 columns
Another example of the incredible size and quantity of stuff in St. Mark’s Basilica, is the number of columns. The basilica has more than 500 capitals and columns. Most of them are Byzantine and date between the 6th to the 11th centuries. There are also some capitals from the 3rd century that are classically classic.
04. Many of the treasures in the basilica came from Constantinople and the Crusades.
Particularly, the Fourth Crusade gave St. Mark’s Basilica an enormous windfall. This was, after all, the Crusade which ended in 1204, with Constantinople’s conquest (modern-day Istanbul).
What was the result? The result?
05. The Crown Jewels are put to shame by the Pala d’Oro
Forget about the Tower of London’s glittering jewels: The Royal Family is nothing like St. Mark’s Basilica! The Pala d’Oro is a Byzantine gold altar screen. It’s studded with hundreds upon hundreds of gems. These include 1,300 pearls and 300 emeralds as well as 300 sapphires, 300 garnets and 400 garnets. There are also 100 amethysts and rubies.
06. The bell tower? It fell once…
The St. Mark’s campanile, which measures 323 feet (98.6 meters) in height, dates back to the 9th Century… but had to be rebuilt by 1903. Why? It fell apart! It was reworked in 16 century.
It fell on July 14, 1902. It had been through several earthquakes before it fell. The rubble buried the balcony of the Basilica in rubble. Fortunately, the church was spared. The incident was still embarrassing!
The bell tower was rebuilt from 1903 to 1912 exactly the same way it was in 1903. However, using safer and better techniques.
We’ve already mentioned six but, since we’re still on a roll here are some more interesting insights:
07. The mosaics in St. Mark’s Basilica’s gold are made from real gold!
Venice was a wealthy city of merchants in the past. What the Republic had in military power or land dominance, it had in wealth. The mosaics of the basilica were not only used to please God and St. Mark, or to communicate complex religious concepts; they also served as a way for the important guests to see the wealth of the city, such as kings and ambassadors from other countries.
Each of the golden pieces is actually made from gold. It has a thin layer of clear glass and a gold leaf that’s been’sandwiched. The Venetians were able to display such precious material and show their devotion. It was also a way for them to demonstrate their political weight, which is very important in such a small country.
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08. The large outer domes that rise above the basilica’s roof are fakes!
It’s difficult to build large structures in Venice because the terrain is fragile. Therefore, you need to make sure that your buildings are small and light. The Venetians needed to amaze their guests so they devised some clever tricks to trick the eyes and make it appear that the buildings were huge and impressive.
This is what you will see in St. Mark’s Basilica: The five large domes that give the basilica its unique shape are just a wood-covered structure with a thin layer lead. They are empty because the domes made of brick with mosaics inside the church are lower.
It is possible to say that these large emtpy domes serve one purpose: they make the building appear larger than it actually is. This allows ships approaching the city to recognize the shape of the building from far away, and then be amazed by the legendary city rising from the water.
09. A huge “acqua alta”, which flooded the church completely in 2019, was a great event!
There are tides in the Venetian Lagoon. Sometimes these tides rise higher than normal, and some areas of the city flood. It’s quite common for the St. Mark’s Square to be submerged in water.
However, things got out of control on November 12, 2019. The tide reached the second highest point in the city’s history. The church’s custodians were not prepared for the event. Not only did the water flood the basilica’s antechamber, which is on the same level as the square, but the entire church, which is much higher.
Although the damage to the building was extensive, the building is still recovering. Nevertheless, this tragedy gave rise to the MOSE project. This system of mobile barriers designed to protect the Lagoon against the most dangerous tides. They were tested several times in 2020, and they seem to have worked well. We all hope that they can protect the basilica in future.
10. St. Mark’s Basilica may not be the oldest or the largest church in Venice.
The construction of the St. Mark’s basilica began in the IX Century. But the history and development of Venice started way before this time, in the V-VII century. There are many churches in the city that were built before the main monument. According to historians, San Giacometto church, which is located near the Rialto bridge, could be the oldest holy structure of the city. In fact, Rialto was the first area to be colonized by the islanders. The city of Venice was called “Rialto” in the first centuries.
Despite its size, St. Mark’s Basilica, which is at least comparable to other buildings in the city, is not the largest church. This title goes to Santi Giovanni e Paolo where the powerful Dominican monastic Order lives. Napoleon conquered Venice and chose their monastery as the first public hospital. It is still there today. Take the Venice in a Day tour to learn more about San Giacometto or Santi Giovanni e Paolo, both of which feature these important churches.
Our Walks of Italy guide Move Viero is very grateful for sharing these interesting facts about St. Mark’s Basilica.
You can learn more about our experiences in Venice at both St. Mark’s Basilica or the Doge’s Palace. Or, for a VIP experience, visit St. After hours, Mark’s Basilica is closed to the public.