6 things you might miss at the Basilica di San Marco

entrance of san marcoIt’s hard to take a bad photo in Venice, everywhere you turn- literally- is a perfect backdrop. There are little bridges crossing canals, old distressed doorways, cracked building facades, sculptures, fountains, carvings, churches, boats, boats, and more boats. We spent only one day in Venice- probably 7-8 hours total. Spartacus and I had been there before so it was nice to try and do something new as well as revisiting some of the highlights.

dave and I
I mentioned in the Friday round up that we hired a guild. If you want her contact info send me an email at hollee@moxiblog.com I will be glad to share. Venice is very particular about there tour guilds, they must pass a very difficult exam offered only once every two years. Venice requires a license and if they catch unauthorized people offering tour guilds they suffer big penalties. Our tour guild was excellent, her background was in Art History and she is a local to the area so she had so many good tips to share, it was worth the extra cost for us. However it is not cheap. Some people splurge on a gondola ride, we splurged on a personal tour guild.
Last time we were here years ago, we visited the Doge Palace- center of government- It was designed to be the home of the Doge (centralized so that the nobleman that elected him could keep an eye on him as a “checks and balance” system) and the place to meet with foreign leaders. It was impressive inside and out, and a popular tourist destination.

san marco- venice.moxiblog.comThis time we visited the Basilica of San Marco- the burial place of St. Mark. I enjoyed this tour more than the palace and felt that I learned quite a lot about Venice. The church is open to the public and there are always long lines of people, but worth a visit. The mosaics stand out immediately- covering the walls in glittering gold. You may notice in the first photo above that we visited during rainy season, but no worries the city is used to dealing with flooding water and there are platforms everywhere to walk on. If you do not have a tour guild to tell you, you might miss a few details:

cieling in st marcos

  • If you follow the crowds moving from the right side toward the front and center you will eventually peek through and arched opening and catch a glimpse of the stone coffin of Saint Mark. Originally it was in the lower level, but as you probably know, Venice floods- a lot, so they brought it up front and center.
  • interior goldThe view from the upper balcony is fantastic, so make the climb up the crowded staircase to the right when you first come in. Walk around to view the grand canal and palace on your left. From here take time to notice a few thing:
  • family shot- san marco___ The Doge’s palace on the Left has a very Venician feel- pointed arches and eastern-Moorish influences, while the building to the right ( I think it’s the library?) is very neoclassical and roman in design. This contrast reflects Venice divided interest as traders with the east and kinsmen with the west.

exterior phasade

  • Notice that parts of the church is covered in brick and the part where you are standing and all the other surrounding area is covered in marble, many kinds of marble in face. The church – like everything else, was originally built in brick, but when the powerful Venetians conquered Istanbul and other places in the east they brought back spoils from the battles, to include architectural salvage ( I thought that this was way cool, I mean not the stealing-their-lute-after-killing-them part, but the fact that recognition of beauty and desire to “recycle” it onto their architecture is not a new idea) . From this vantage point you can see the different types of carved columns and lots of different colors of marble that make up the facade of the church.
  • excellent view clock towerWalk back toward the entrance to the church and notice the clock tower to your right. This work of art is beautiful and an engineering wonder. Most of it is 500 years, the digital clock in the middle is only 200 years old. On top there are two sculptures “the Moors”, (called that because of the dark patina acquired by the bronze-of men ringing the bell) one is old and one is young, marking the passage of time they snap into action on the hour, so try and time your visit accordingly. The middle elements change every 5 minutes, 10 minutes and hourly. Finally the zodiac signs indicate the time of year from the long ray of the sun that acts as a hand, but look closely at the clock hand because just above the sun is a moon, and it changes according to the phases of the moon, ours was hard to see because it was a new moon.
  • horsesAt the upstairs balcony entrance are giant horses- replicas of the originals that are housed just inside and to the left. These horses are a THOUSAND years old, it kinda blows my mind that these giant beautiful animals were cast in bronze A THOUSAND years ago before modern tools and processes! They were then covered in gold leaf and must have been really stunning when they were new and shiny. They wore leather bridles and had eyes made of glass to seem more realistic, but over the years those elements have worn out but what remains is still very impressive, which is why they were brought inside for safe keeping.

oh the floors too

  • Before you leave the building, make sure you have taken a few minutes to look down and notice the floors, some people say they look like oriental rugs, it’s not coincidence, since Venetians traded with the east.

Do you love or hate Venice? Do you have any tips to share?  Any ideas on way’s to save $, or must see things to do?