Venice – St. Mark’s Basilica & Church of San Giorgio Maggiore

If you are wondering why in my first three posts about Venice I introduced 16 churches but not the famous St. Marks’s Basilica, it’s because it doesn’t belong to the Chorus Association. In fact, another church that doesn’t belong to this association but I strongly recommend is the church of San Giorgio Maggiore, designed by Andrea Palladio. If you have read my previous posts about Venice, please click here to jump directly to the main content of this one. If not, the following paragraphs will be about an explanation of the outstanding universal value of Venice in terms of its history, city planning, architecture and art; some practical tips concerning the ideal length of your stay, the proper season of your visit and what you should note while eating in the restaurants and an introduction to the public transport system as well as the entrance prices and opening hours of some of the major attractions such as the churches belonging to the Chorus Association and museums of the MUVE. Now, let’s get to know Venice, a precious gem on the Adriatic sea.

As the UNESCO comments:

Founded in the 5th century and spread over 118 small islands, Venice became a major maritime power in the 10th century. The whole city is an extraordinary architectural masterpiece in which even the smallest building contains works by some of the world’s greatest artists such as Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and others.


威尼斯及其泻湖: 威尼斯始建于5世纪,由118个小岛构成,10世纪时成为当时最主要的海上力量。整个威尼斯城就是一幅非凡的建筑杰作,即便是城中最不起眼的建筑也可能是出自诸如焦尔焦内(Giorgione)、提香(Titian)、丁托列托(Tintoretto)、韦罗内塞(Veronese)等世界大师之手。

1. Venice and its outstanding universal value

When’s the first time you heard about Venice and how? Well, I guess the first time I heard about Venice was in my English literature class when I was introduced to William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice“. Or maybe it was in my history class when I learnt that Marco Polo departed from here in search of China, Annam (nowadays Vietnam), Tonkin, Sumatra (an island in Indonesia), India and Persia. His voyage reminds us of the role that the Venetian merchants played in the discovery of the world, though after the Arabs, around 200 years before the Portuguese. In fact, it’s also possible that I heard about Venice even earlier, in my Chinese literature class when I was appreciating the essay “Venice” written by Zhu Ziqing, a renowned Chinese poet and essayist.

威尼斯(Venice)是一个别致地方。出了火车站,你立刻便会觉得;这里没有汽车,要到那儿,不是搭小火轮,便是雇“刚朵拉”(Gondola)。大运河穿过威尼斯像反写的S;这就是大街。另有小河道四百十八条,这些就是小胡同。轮船像公共汽车,在大街上走;“刚朵拉”是一种摇橹的小船,威尼斯所特有,它那儿都去。威尼斯并非没有桥;三百七十八座,有的是。只要不怕转弯抹角,那儿都走得到,用不着下河去。可是轮船中人还是很多,“刚朵拉”的买卖也似乎并不坏。 威尼斯是“海中的城”,在意大利半岛的东北角上,是一群小岛,外面一道沙堤隔开亚得利亚海。在圣马克方场的钟楼上看,团花簇锦似的东一块西一块在绿波里荡漾着。远处是水天相接,一片茫茫。这里没有什么煤烟,天空干干净净;在温和的日光中,一切都像透明的。中国人到此,仿佛在江南的水乡;夏初从欧洲北部来的,在这儿还可看见清清楚楚的春天的背影。海水那么绿,那么酽,会带你到梦中去。

Zhu studied at Peking University (always one of the 2 top universities in China), and during the May Fourth Movement became one of several pioneers of modernism in China during the 1920s. Zhu was a prolific writer of both prose and poetry, but is best known for essays like “Retreating Figure” (背影), “You. Me.” (你我) and the long poem “Destruction” (毁灭). This time, before leaving for Venice, I told my parents that I was going there and my dad said, “Oh, Venice, the city that Zhu Ziqing visited and wrote about. Don’t forget to take the gondola and check whether they are the same as he described or not. Maybe they have changed now?” The text above is part of what Zhu wrote and I’ll try to translate it by myself here. I hope and will try my best to keep the “original taste” of it.

Venice is a unique place. Once leaving the train station, you will immediately realize that there are no cars here. Wherever you wanna go, you can to take either a steam ship or a gondola. The Grand Canal goes through Venice like the letter “S” and it is the “main street” of the city. What’s more, there are 480 small canals and rios and they play the same role as the small alleys (hutong) in Beijing. The steam ships are like buses in other cities, “driving” passengers hither and thither. Gondola is similar to a rowed boat and it’s unique here in Venice. Wherever you wanna go, it can take you there. There are no bridges? Of course there are and there are 378! That’s a lot and enough because after turning around and around, you can basically reach everywhere without touching the sea water. Nevertheless, still quite a lot of people choose to take ships and it seems that gondola is also a rather popular option among them. Composed of many small islands and located at the northeast corner of the Italian peninsula, Venice is called the “city in the sea”. Seen from the top of San Marco Campanile, the islands are like floral clusters floating on the Adriatic sea. In warm sunlight and with almost no smoke, my sight goes through the seemingly transparent whole until it reaches the horizon where the sea meet the sky. As a Chinese, Venice reminds me of the water towns in southern China. After my trip to northern Europe in early summer, I can still find spring here, retreating yet clear. The water, so green and so “strong”, flows into your dreams.

The essay is much longer and I hope you can grasp a general idea or feeling of it from my translation. I’m happy that writing about Venice gives me the opportunity to read Zhu’s work again. I think the last time I read the “Venice” by him was somewhat more than 10 years ago and I have forgotten almost all of it except the “gondola”. A city floating on the sea? Doesn’t it only exist in fairytales or the magical world? As Zhu mentioned in his essay, I was born and grew up in southern China and I know Suzhou (Soochow) is called the “Oriental Venice” because of its rivers and bridges. I lived in this city for four years and I’ve always dreamt of seeing the real Venice. Eventually, the opportunity has come.

In this lagoon covering 50,000 square kilometers, nature and history have been closely connected since the 5th century when the Venetian ancestors came to the sandy islands of Torcello, Jesolo and Malamocco. As time went by, temporary settlements turned to be permanent and the fisherman and peasants became a maritime power. With its expansion over the centuries, Venice never ceased to consolidate its position in the lagoon. What is it that made the UNESCO decide to protect the whole city and its lagoon? What kind of historical, cultural and educational values does Venice possess? Based on what I read from the UNESCO World Heritage website, I’ll try to answer these question from three main aspects, that is to say, the city planning (protection), the monuments (architecture) and the art (painters and paintings).

1.1 Urban setting

Before seeing it, it’s rather difficult to imagine a city built on the sea. We sometimes say though a sparrow is small, it has all the organs that it needs. From Torcello to the north to Chioggia to the south, the islands here in this lagoon are similar to the sparrows, small yet highly functional. Made up of these islands and located at the heart of Veneto, Venice “stood as one of the greatest capitals” in the Middle Ages. In this distinctive city, street means canal, alley means rio, bus means ship and pedestrian crossing means bridge. This unique landscape resulted from a long and sophisticated process which reflects the interaction between people and the natural environment and it is this interaction that demonstrates people’s high technical and creative skills in the “realization of the hydraulic and architectural works” in this area. Although Venice presents a complete typology of medieval architecture, what makes it more special and valuable is that these buildings were constructed according to certain urban setting which had to adapt to the special conditions of the site.

Was it an easy task to organize the islands in such an urban system? It was not and it is not an easy task to keep the system or to update it nowadays either. Venice was and still is vulnerable due to various reasons. One of them is the irreversible natural and climate changes. We human beings can change a lot of things but one of the few things that we can never take control of is nature. Though very difficult, negotiating with nature and protecting their home is a task that the Venetians never forget or give up. When you are in the city, you will see ingenious devices and designs that have been applied to the streets and buildings (palazzos, churches and so on) for this specific purpose. As part of the coherent ecosystem, the muddy shelves, the small islands, the pile dwellings, the fishing villages, the rice fields and so on (which can be easily neglected) all need the same level of attention and protection. Shouldn’t we remember the crystallization of wisdom of these people who were, are and will be coping with nature to preserve this glorious gem of the sea?

1.2 Architecture and monumental arts

The second aspect showing Venice’s outstanding universal value is its influence on the development of monumental arts. I was writing about Palladio and his works in and around Vicenza some time ago and I mentioned some of his original designs in Venice. Honestly, for me, visiting Venice is like visiting the historic centers of Rome and Paris in the aspect that almost every building has its own history and is worth knowing about. This is the reason why the UNESCO emphasizes that “the lagoon of Venice has one of the highest concentrations of masterpieces in the world”. From the palazzos to the squares (piazza and campi), from the bridges to the streets (calli), from the churches to the Scuole hospitals and chartable and cooperative institutions, one who sees Venice sees the complete catalogue of medieval architecture and even more.

While we are talking about the city’s history and buildings, how can we miss its significant role as the capital (810–1797) of the Republic of Venice? For almost a millennium, Venice was the major witness to the ups and downs of this powerful sovereign state and nowadays, its architectural ensembles make it possible for us to see the magnificence of the Republic’s Golden Age. What’s more, internationally, the monuments built based on the Venetian models “first through the Serenissima’s fondachi or trading stations, along the Dalmatian coast, in Asia Minor and in Egypt, in the islands of the Ionian Sea, the Peloponnesus, Crete, and Cyprus” are strong evidence of the width and strength of this Republic’s influence on architecture.

1.3 Paintings and decorative arts

When the Republic of Venice started to lose its power over the sea, it exerted its influence in a rather different manner. I personally am a great fan of Italian paintings and besides the Manneristic Renaissance painters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael, the ones belonging to the Venetian school are always among my favorites. From the later part of the 15th century, Venice had a distinctive, flourishing and influential art scene. Beginning with the work of Giorgione and the workshop of Giovanni Bellini, major artists of the Venetian school included Titian (Tiziano Vecelli), Tintoretto (also known as Jacopo Robusti in his youth), Paolo Veronese (also known as Paolo Caliari) and Jacopo Bassano (also known as Jacopo dal Ponte). Together with Giambattista and Giandomenico Tiepolo, their revolutionary and ingenious masterpieces illustrating a brand-new perception of space, light and color left a decisive mark on the development of painting and decorative arts in the whole of Europe.

I remember that in the museums in other cities, once I saw paintings of these masters that I mentioned above, I would definitely take a close look at them. Nevertheless, in Venice, I only chose to take a look at the most famous ones or the ones that I like the most. Why? Because there are so many! I assure you that in no other city of the world can you see such a complete collection of works created by these great painters. These marvelous masterpieces are scatted all over Venice in the churches, houses, palazzos and of course in the museums and art galleries. For example, in the Church of San Zaccaria, you can see Giovanni Bellini’s “San Zaccaria Altarpiece”; in the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, you can see Titian’s “The Assumption of the Virgin”; in the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore, you can see Tintoretto’s “Last Supper”; in the Gallerie dell’Accademia, you can see Paolo Veronese’s “The Feast in the House of Levi” and “Mystical Marriage of St Catherine”Titian’s “Presentation of the Virgin” and many more. Trust me, if you are a fan of any of those masters in the Venetian school, you will certainly feel Venice is the paradise of art. Just a reminder, as a city built on 118 small islands floating on the Adriatic Sea, the beauty of Venice also inspired numerous landscape painters such as Canaletto, Guardi, Turner and so on.

2. General tips for visiting Venice

Having elaborated on the outstanding universal value of Venice, now, by answering four questions, I’d like to give you a general introduction to the city accompanied by some suggestions or tips based on my own experiences. The first question that I guess many people, who have never been to Venice, have in their mind is: “What are the must-visit attractions in this wonderful city?” Well, I guess anyone who knows Italy knows Venice and anyone who knows Venice knows St. Mark’s Square. It is the principal public square of Venice and is generally known just as la Piazza (“the Square”). Together with the Piazzetta (“little Square”), an extension of the Piazza towards the lagoon in its south east corner, it forms the social, religious and political centre of Venice. In fact, All the other urban spaces in the city (except the Piazzale Roma) are called campi (“fields”). Dominated by the Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint MarkProcuratie Nuove, Napoleonic Wing, Procuratie Vecchie, the Campanile of St Mark’s churchBiblioteca Marciana, and Doge’s Palace, these two spaces are worth the name “the drawing room of Europe” (a comment which is said to have been left by Napoleon).

Take your time but remember, don’t spend all your time here. Otherwise, you will miss a big part of Venice. I somehow feel that visiting Venice is like going through a general body examination. It’s of vital importance to check the heart (visit the St. Mark’s Square) but without checking other parts, this examination just doesn’t make much sense. All in all, I’d really like to remind you that Venice is much more than just St. Mark’s Square. Visiting the bridges (such as Ponte dell’Accademia and the Rialto Bridge), the churches (such as the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari and the Basilica of Saint Mary of Health), the houses or palaces (such as Ca’ Rezzonico and Ca’ Pesaro), the islands (such as Murano and Burano), the museums (such as the Lace Musem and the Glass Museum), the Gallerie dell’Accademia, the Grand Canal and so on will help you gain a much more detailed and comprehensive understanding of Venice.

“How long should we stay in Venice?” Well, this is a very difficult question because depending on how much you wanna see and how much you wanna learn, the length could vary from three days to a month or even longer. If you wanna have a good understanding of the city, I would say you need to spend at least a week here. “What’s the best time to visit Venice?” I visited Venice in November and at the beginning I was a bit disappointed because my friends told me the weather in the summer is much better. Nevertheless, when they told me they waited for one, two or even more hours to enter the churches and museums, I was so glad and realized that I chose the right time. In totally, I visited 18 churches and 9 museums and I didn’t spend any time waiting for entering them. Though in the winter, almost all the museums close earlier than in the summer, I’m still happy that I can use the time standing in the lines to have a nice dinner and enjoy the view of Venice at night. Briefly, if possible, I still recommend you visiting Venice in the low season to avoid large crowds.

“Is it safe to travel in Venice?” According to my experience, I would say my own trip was rather smooth and successful. I wouldn’t say there’s anything life-threatening that you need to be reminded of. Nevertheless, do keep an eye on your personal belongings because similar to any other big or famous touristy cities, thieves are inevitable. What’s more, don’t fall for their tricks when someone offers you free stuff or asks you to sign something. Just remember that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Besides,there are two more things that I’d like to share with you concerning having lunch and dinner in the restaurants. Firstly, please note that cover fee and service fee are two different charges so when you go to a restaurant where they say they don’t charge compulsory service fee, don’t be surprised when the cover fee appears on your bill, and vice versa. Honestly, as for the cover fee, I think its reasonable to charge it and as long as they provide ok service, I prefer that the restaurants just charge the service fee directly so I don’t need to calculate and think about how much tip I should leave. The thing I hate the most is that sometimes they say one thing while doing another (For example, some guy standing in front of the restaurant inviting customers in said that the restaurant wouldn’t charge service fee or whatsoever. Nevertheless, by the end, both fees appeared on the bill and I saw some customers complaining to him and he seemed to suggest that he would talk with the manager and give their cover and service fees back. Of course 99% of the people would say “Ah, it’s just a few euros, never mind,” and that’s how he does his “business”.) I don’t mind paying a few more euros but if you lie to me, I won’t allow myself to be tricked like a fool and pretend nothing has happened. The second thing is that when you make your order, make sure you see your dish and the price on the menu. For example, in one restaurant, the waitress asked my friend and me, “do you want some garlic bread”? and I said “sure, why not.” but when I got the “garlic bread” they turned out to be tomato buchetta. I bet that if I questioned her she would say “oh, sorry I can’t speak English well or oh sorry, isn’t buchetta garlic bread?” What else could I say? Fortunately, nowadays on Google Map you can check reviews of the restaurants and I strongly recommend you doing so before entering them. How I regret I didn’t do it because later on I checked the reviews of that particular restaurant and there had been so many similar cases much worse then mine. Can you imagine how you would feel if you and your family enter a restaurant planning to have a simple dinner for around 60 euros and end up paying 200 instead? I sincerely hope that the local authorities could deal with these kinds of restaurants which are obviously trying to “rip tourists off”. We tourists need to respect Venice and on the other hand, Venice (relevant administrations) also needs to respect its visitors. Only in this way can we achieve a harmonious relationship between the city and the people.

3. Brief info about public transport and major attractions (that I visited)

As I mentioned above, during my this trip to Venice, I visited 16 churches belonging to the Chorus Association, a conservation organisation aiming at safeguarding, conserving and restoring the artistic, historical and cultural heritage contained within the 18 Venetian churches that presently constitute its membership (Church of Santa Maria del Giglio, Church of Santo Stefano, Church of Santa Maria Formosa, Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, Church of San Giovanni Elemosinario, Church of San Polo, Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Church of San Giacomo dall’Orio, Church of San Stae, Church of Sant’Alvise, Basilica of San Pietro di Castello, Church of the Santissimo Redentore, Church of Santa Maria del Rosario (Gesuati), Church of San Sebastiano, Church of San Giobbe, Church of San Giuseppe di Castello, Church of San Vidal and Church of San Giacomo di Rialto), 8 museums belonging to the Venice Civic Museum Foundation (Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia) (Doge’s Palace, Museo Correr, Ca’ Rezzonico, Ca’ Pesaro, Glass Museum in Murano, Natural History Museum, Mocenigo Palace, Fortuny Palace, Lace Museum in Burano, Carlo Goldoni’s house and Clock Tower (visits only upon prior booking)) as well as the Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark, the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore as well as the Gallerie dell’Accademia.

If you want to visit both the churches and the civic museums I recommend you buying the City Pass from VeneziaUnica which costs 29.9 euros for people from 6 to 29 years old (39.9 euros for people from 30+) and gives free admission to: Doge’s Palace and all 10 Civic Museums of Venice, 16 churches of the Chorus Circuit (another 2 are free), the Querini Stampalia Foundation and the Jewish Museum. Please click here to check more offers provided by VeneziaUnica such as St. Mark’s City Pass (free access to Doge’s Palace and the Corror museum on St. Mark’s square + 3 churches in the Chorus circuit of your choice), St. Mark’s City Pass + tour of the Teatro La Fenice with audioguide, City Pass + lagoon tour, City Pass + public transport and so on.

If you only wanna visit the churches of the Chorus Association, I suggest you buy the Chorus Pass which costs only 12 euros for an adult (please note that entrance to each church in this circuit costs 3 euros already). For more information about the reduced-price Pass, Family Pass, free tickets, opening hours of the churches and so on, please click here.

If you only wanna visit the civic museums, you can buy the “Museum Pass” which grants entrance to most of them except Palazzo Fortuny and the Clock Tower. The full price is 24 euros. Depending on which and how many museums in this foundation you want to visit, either buying the tickets separately or buying the “Museum Pass” can be cheaper. However, if you plan to visit more than four museums in this circle, it’s for sure a better deal to just buy the Pass. Please click here and click the PDF file “Civic Museums of Venice – short version” to check both the full and reduced entrance prices for each of the museums and click here to know more about the different types of the “Museum Pass” (such as family pass, child pass, senior pass etc).

As for public transport, water bus (ship) is the main means. According to my experience, it’s fun exploring the main island both on foot and by boat because the former means gives you the opportunity to be closer to the narrow streets and authentic residential blocks while the latter makes your journey much easier and more convenient because there are so many lines and stops. Nevertheless, if you want to visit the Church of the Santissimo Redentore, the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, the Lace Museum on Burano Island, the Glass Museum on Murano Island and so on and have a cruise on the magnificent Grand Canal, you have to take the water bus. Depending on how many days you will spend in Venice and where you want to go, you can buy one-way ticket (7.5 €), 1-day ticket (20 €), 2-day ticket (30 €), 3-day ticket (40 €), 7-day ticket (60€), water bus tickets with Marco Polo Airport transfer and so on. For more informations about group tickets and some special offers please click here and click “Public Transport”.

4. St. Mark’s Basilica

Before entering the basilica, I experienced the unique side of Venice. Can you guess what it is? Well, I guess you can see it from the picture above. Yes, it’s the Acqua Alta, or in other words, High Tides or Venice Flooding. I was warned by my friends before coming to Venice that flooding is quite common here. For me, it wasn’t that annoying but a new experience. After a walk around St. Mark’s Square, I felt like I was in Atlantis. Many people think that the flooding is caused by the sinking of Venice. However, as I read online, it’s not really the case. Acqua Alta can happen when there is a very high tide, usually during a full or new moon, when there is low atmospheric pressure or when a scirocco wind blows up the narrow, shallow Adriatic Sea, which forces water into the Venetian Lagoon. Normally, it’s not that bad or dangerous, but if you hear the siren wailing you need to be prepared. As you can see from the picture above, the city provides elevated wooden walkways in areas that are prone to flooding. Information about such routes is available in almost all the ACTV water bus stops. Just a reminder, don’t try to jump from the wooden “bridge” to the nearby dry space so that you can take a nice picture, because I witnessed several tourists who failed, ending with falling into the pond, and several who succeeded, ending with being trapped there and waiting for “rescue”.

Now let’s come back to the basilica. Upon entering after crossing the wooden “bridge”, I was shocked by the mosaics on the interior. I’ve been to St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, Milan Cathedral in Milan, Florence Cathedral in Florence, Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, St Paul’s Cathedral in London, Notre Dame de Paris in Paris, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Frauenkirche in Munich, etc., but none of them is like St. Mark’s Basilica, whose interior, from the middle to the top, is almost entirely covered by golden mosaics. I guess this is one of the reasons why it is the most famous church in the city of Venice. Unfortunately, it is strictly forbidden to take pictures inside the church, so I guess the only way to admire the glory of the mosaics is to go there and appreciate them with your own eyes.

In the following sections, I’ll give you a brief introduction to the basilicaSt. Mark’s MuseumPala d’Oro, the Treasury and St Mark’s Campanile (the Bell Tower) including their opening hours and entrance prices. If you wanna know more about them, I recommend you visiting the official website because it is very well-organized and has every piece of information that you might need (my introduction below is also mostly based on what I read from this website). I’ll try to keep my introduction short and concentrated because without pictures it might be a bit boring for you. After that, I’ll tell you what more you can expect from the website. Now, let’s start with the architecture, mosaics and sculpture of the basilica.

4.1 Architecture, mosaics and sculpture of the basilica

Open November – June (Corpus Christi):

  • Monday – Saturday: 9:30 – 17:00
  • Sundays and holidays: 14:00 – 16:30

Open June (Corpus Christi) – November:

  • Monday – Saturday: 9:45 – 17:00
  • Sundays and holidays: 14:00 – 17:00

Please note that the last admission is 15 mins before the closing time of the basilica and it is free of charge to visit the interior (excluding the St. Mark’s Museum, Pala d’Oro and the Treasury). You can NOT enter the basilica with luggage, not even with backpack, but it can be deposited in Ateneo San Basso (the staff on site will show you where it is if you can’t find it).

To build St. Mark’s Church, Venice brought the spiritual and material heritage of Byzantium to the West. The general plan is the Greek cross with the vertical arm longer than that of the transepts. Above the cross are five cupolas, which according to the eastern model, is a symbol of God’s presence. The church was consecrated on 8th October 1094 when the body of St. Mark was settled in a marble tomb beneath the high altar. Afterwards, it was continually modified, enlarged, covered with marbles and mosaics and decorated with other elements such as columns, statues. For me personally, the most amazing work of the church is the mosaic decoration, which began in 1071. Though covered by carpets, the actual floor of St. Mark’s church can still be seen if you pay close attention and is made of marble spreading more than 2099 square metres. Where did so many marbles come from then? After the conquest of Constantinople in 1204, Venice had access to a large quantity of precious marbles from the sacred and civic buildings of the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, a big proportion of which were sent to St. Mark’s and used to decorate the facades and interior. If you wanna read some more detailed information about the architectural plan, the building phases, the use of marble and stone, etc. please click here.

Before visiting the basilica, my impression of it had always been its broad façade and round cupolas. After a walk inside, the image that comes to my mind immediately once someone mentions it is of the mosaics and their golden background. Developed through almost 8 centuries, more than 8000 square metres of mosaics cover the walls, vaults and cupolas. They represent stories from the Bible, allegorical figures, events in Jesus’ life, Virgin Mary, St. Mark and other saints. As I read from the website, like “in Middle-Eastern churches, the interaction of the decoration with a dim, but ever changing light, according to the time of day, creates a range of evocative and intense effects”. If you wanna know more about mosaics, please click here.

As for the sculpture of the church, I recommend you taking a look at the Gothic iconostasis which separates the nave from the presbytery. Consisting of 14 beautiful statues in white marble, it was the work of the Venetian brothers Pierpaolo and Jacobello dalle Masegne and depicts the 12 Apostles with Virgin Mary and St. Mark. The presbytery, the most sacred part of the church which includes the high altar with the marble sarcophagus containing St. Mark’s body, is absolutely another highlight. At the center stands an antique green marble ciborium on four columns, which are embellished with historical episodes from the gospels. Some other works you might be interested in are the façade decoration, the small 15th-century altars, the columns and capitals and Jacopo Sansovino’s sculptures including the Bronze Sacristy Gate. For more information about them, please click here.

4.2 Pala d’Oro

Open November – June (Corpus Christi):

  • Monday – Saturday: 9:45 – 16:45
  • Sundays and holidays: 14:00 – 16:30

Open June (Corpus Christi) – November:

  • Monday – Saturday: 9:45 – 17:00
  • Sundays and holidays: 14:00 – 17:00

Entrance ticket:

  • Full price: 2 euros
  • Reduced price: 1 euro (only for groups with more than 25 people)

Pala d’Oro is the high altar retable of the basilica and is the “world’s only intact example of large size Gothic goldsmith’s art” (commented on the website). It is universally recognized as one of the most refined and accomplished works of Byzantine enamel, with both front and rear decorated. As I learnt from Wikipedia, it is 3 meters wide by 2 meters tall and is made of gold and silver, 187 enamel plaques and 1927 gems which include 526 pearls, 330 garnets, 320 emeralds, 255 sapphires, 183 amethysts, 175 agates, 75 rubies, 34 topazes, 16 carnelians and 13 jaspers. On the retable, the composition of the images or figures is very complicated and if you wanna wanna learn about it please click here.

4.3 The Treasury

Open November – June (Corpus Christi):

  • Monday – Saturday: 9:45 – 16:45
  • Sundays and holidays: 14:00 – 16:30

Open June (Corpus Christi) – November:

  • Monday – Saturday: 9:45 – 17:00
  • Sundays and holidays: 14:00 – 17:00

Entrance ticket:

  • Full price: 3 euros
  • Reduced price: 1.5 euro (only for groups with more than 25 people)

As I learnt from the official website, the Treasury consists of a collection of 283 pieces in gold, silver, glass and other precious materials. It can be divided into four sections which host respectively objects from antiquity and the early Middle Ages, objects by Byzantine goldsmiths, objects of Islamic art and objects of western origin. What you should not miss here, first of all, are the Throne Reliquary of St. MarkPanel with Half-figure of St. MichaelReliquary of the True Cross and Chalices of Romanos IV Diogenes. Some other items such as the Bookcover with Crucifixion and the Virgin Orans and the Lamp of Perfume-burner are also worth admiring.

4.4 St. Mark’s Museum

Open November – June (Corpus Christi):

  • Monday – Sunday: 9:45 – 16:45

Open June (Corpus Christi) – November:

  • Monday – Sunday: 9:45 – 16:45

Entrance ticket:

  • Full price: 5 euros
  • Reduced price: 2.5 euro (only for groups with more than 25 people)

To be honest, my main goal of visiting this museum was to see the “Horses of St. Mark“, the only surviving ancient quadriga (a car or chariot drawn by four horses abreast). Previously installed on the balcony above the portal of the basilica in around 1254, they were taken to Paris by Napoleon in 1797 but returned to Venice in 1815. After a long restoration, since the 1970s, the originals have been kept in St. Mark’s Museum and the horses you see nowadays in the middle of the facade are bronze replicas. These horses seem to be rather popular among the generals or commanders because ironically, they were neither designed in Venice nor for the basilica. After being long displayed at the Hippodrome of Constantinople, they were sent back to Venice in 1204 by Doge Enrico Dandolo as part of the loot sacked from Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade. I also read online that the horses were too big to fit in the transporting ship so their heads were severed. The neck decorations we can see now were added in 1204 to cover the trace.

While you are in the Sala dei Banchetti, take a look the weekday altarpiece by Paolo Veneziano, a painting on wood dating back to the mid-14th century illustrating stories from the life of St. Mark. It was used a long time ago to cover the Pala d’Oro. Some other notable artworks in the museum include the Persian carpets, liturgical vestments, illuminated manuscripts and various tapestries in silk and silver and in wool.

4.5 St Mark’s Campanile (the Bell Tower)

The opening hours of the campanile is rather complicated so please click here for the detailed information. Mark my words, though I didn’t go up to the loggia of the belfry, I saw from other people’s pictures that from there, the spectacular bird’s eye view over the city and the lagoon is marvelous.

Entrance ticket:

  • Full price: 8 euros
  • Reduced price: 4 euro (only for groups with more than 25 people)

If we are talking about the most recognizable symbols of Venice, we can’t neglect St. Mark’s Bell Tower. As you can see from the first two pictures above, while I was taking a boat trip in the lagoon and looking towards the direction of St. Mark’s Square, the most eye-catching building is St. Mark’s Campanile. After that, I saw the cupolas of the basilica and the Doge’s Palace.

The structure of the Campanile is quite simple. The tower is almost 99 meters tall and is in general composed of four parts. the bulk is 12 meters wide on each side and 50 meters tall, above which is a loggia surrounding the belfry, housing five bells. Only the largest one of the five original bells remains because the other four, now replaced, were destroyed when the tower collapsed in 1902. The belfry is then topped by a cube with faces showing the Lion of St. Mark and Justice. The last part is a pyramidal spire, at the top of which sits a golden weathervane in the form of the archangel Gabriel.

Though its current design dates from 1514, the campanile was entirely rebuilt in 1912 after the collapse in 1902. At the beginning of July 1902, the north wall of the tower began to show signs of a crack which in the following days continued to grow. Eventually, at around 9:45 on 14th July, the campanile collapsed completely. As I learnt from Wikipedia, “remarkably, no one was killed, except for the caretaker’s cat”. In the evening of the same day, the communal council approved a large amount of expenditure for the reconstruction, which was decided to be built exactly as it had been, but with some internal reinforcement to prevent future collapse. By the way, the elevator was also installed at this time.

I hope I’ve given you a rather interesting brief introduction to the basilica, its treasury, museum and campanile. Please note that I only provided you with information about some so-called highlights, so if you are not really interested in a in-depth tour of the basilica, those are the things you shouldn’t miss. If you are particularly interested in church, religion or history, please click the links I attached above to know more about the “attractions”. Trust me, there’s a lot more to learn. Now please follow me and take the water bus to cross the canal. The magnificent church of San Giorgio Maggiore is awaiting us. You can already see it clearly from the Riva degli Schiavoni waterfront or from the Piazzetta (Little Square) of St. Mark’s.

5. Church of San Giorgio Maggiore

San Giorgio Maggiore is a 16th-century Benedictine church on the island of the same name. In classical Renaissance style, it was designed by Andrea Palladio and built between 1566 and 1610. As I mentioned above, once you are standing on the Piazzetta of St. Mark’s or on the Riva degli Schiavoni waterfront, you will see the basilica, in particular it’s white marble façade, glowing between the blue water of the lagoon and the blue sky. It’s only a short boat trip from the water-bus stop “S. Zaccaria (Danieli) ‘F'” to “S. Giorgio” but on the way, on one side, you can see the skyline of the main island and on the other side, you can see the island of San Giorgio Maggiore.

The first church on the island was built in around 790 but in 982, the island was given to the Benedictine order by Doge Tribuno Memmo, where a monastery was founded. Unfortunately, in 1223, all the buildings on the island were destroyed by an earthquake. The church and monastery were rebuilt afterwards. In 1560, Palladio arrived in Venice, when the refectory of the monastery was being rebuilt. He made great improvements to it and in 1565, was asked to prepare a plan for a new church. The design was completed and approved in 1566 and the foundation stone was laid in the presence of the Pope in the same year. The church was completed after Palladio’s death and the campanile, first built in 1467, fell in 1774. It was then rebuilt in neoclassical style by 1791. Please note that you can actually take a lift to the viewing platform on the top, which offers an amazing view over the Venice and the islands in the lagoon. Once you enter the church you should see an info board indicating the opening and closing time of the tower. I read from Wikipedia that before it can be ascended by easy ramps but during my visit, the staff on site told me that nowadays the top can only be accessed by lift. I guess it’s due to safety reasons. Now, before entering, let’s take a close look at the façade, testament of Palladio’s architectural ingenuousness and talent.

As I read on Wikipedia, the construction of the façade didn’t begin until 1599 and it was completed in 1610 following Palladio’s model only with some minor changes. It is brilliantly white and represents Palladio’s solution to the difficulty of adapting a classical temple facade to the form of the Christian church, which normally has a high nave and low side aisles. His innovative design superimposed two facades, one with a wide pediment and architrave, extending over the nave and both the aisles, supported by a single order of pilasters, while the other one with a narrower pediment of the width of the nave, superimposed on top of the wide façade with a giant order of engaged columns on high pedestals. On the sides of the central portal are statues of Saint George and of Saint Stephen, to whom the church is also dedicated. Interested in his design? Please read, if you haven’t yet, my third post about the churches belonging to the Chorus Association and pay special attention to the façades of Basilica of San Pietro di Castello and Church of the Santissimo Redentore.

As you can see in the first picture above, the interior of the church is very bright, typical of Palladio’s design with massive undecorated columns and pilasters and whitewashed walls. Two large paintings by Tintoretto related to the institution of the Eucharist are placed on the sides of the presbytery. They are respectively “The Last Supper” and “The Fall of Manna” (as you can see in the second and third picture above). If you wanna see them clearly, you have to go around the presbytery and appreciate them from the back of it.

In many Venetian churches, the monks sold the altars to the noble families and allowed them to decorate the altars as they wished. However, it is said that the Benedictine monks here kept control of chapels and even though some of them were handed over, they still took control of the decoration.

Some other artworks in this church you might finding interesting are Jacopo Tintoretto‘s “Entombment of Christ” in the Cappella dei Morti, Sebastiano Ricci‘s “Madonna enthroned with Saints”, Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto‘s “Risen Christ and St Andrew with Morosini family” and “Coronation of the Virgin with Saints”,  Jacopo Bassano‘s “Adoration of the Shepherds” and Leandro Bassano‘s “Miracle of the Immobility of Saint Lucia”. The last painting depicts that when the guards come to carry St. Lucia out, the Holy Spirit makes her body heavy and immobile, impossible to lift.

Counting the two churches I mentioned in this post and the 16 that I mentioned in my first three posts about Venice, I visited in total 18 churches in this city. Rather impressive I have to say. Depending on which aspects you are interested in, for example, architecture, painting, sculpture, etc. you can choose to visit some of them based on my brief introduction. In my next post, I’ll focus on the beauty of Venice, that is to say, its unique and alluring landscape and recommend you some nice viewpoints or routes. In the second part, I’ll simply create a picture gallery and show you the “rivers”, canals, bridges, palaces and houses captured by my camera in November 2017.

Venice – St. Mark’s Basilica & Church of San Giorgio Maggiore was last modified: August 28th, 2019 by Dong

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