Last edited 23 Nov 2020

Main author

Michael Brooks

St Marks Basilica


St. Mark’s Basilica is a Roman Catholic church in Piazza San Marco, Venice, northern Italy. It is one of the most recognisable churches in Italy and one of the best examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture. It is connected to the Doge’s Palace and the campanile.

The first church to be built on the site was ordered by the Doge in 828, to house the body of St. Mark. The present basilica was formed during redevelopment around 1063-1094 and was intended as the Doge’s Chapel. In 1807, it became the seat of the Patriarch of Venice.

The 11th century restoration made the basilica into a symbol of Venetian opulence and power, its elaborate decorations and gold ground mosaics resulting in the nickname ‘Church of gold’.


The architectural design of the basilica is celebrated for its articulate nature, with a basic structure that has not much altered since the 11th century. The central dome is supported through spandrels and large vaults on four pillars. The two arms of the Greek cross-shape are divided into a nave and two aisles. Each arm has a dome of its own as well as the main dome above the intersection.

The narthex and the new façade were constructed in the first half of the 13th century. Around this same time, most of the mosaics were completed and the domes were covered with secondary domes, positioned higher, and made of lead-covered timber to blend in better with the redesigned Gothic architecture of the Doge’s Palace.

The exterior of the basilica’s west façade is divided into lower register, upper register and domes. The lower register comprises five round-arched portals enveloped by polychrome marble columns.

The basilica contains more than 500 columns and capitals, most dating from between the 6th and 11th centuries. The 12th century marble floor is entirely tessellated in geometric patterns and designs of animals. The upper levels are decorated with bright mosaics covering an area of approximately 8,000 sq. m. Most of these mosaics incorporate gold glass tesserae which creates a shimmering effect.

--Michael Brooks

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