The Basilica of San Marco in Venice is the Cathedral of Venice and the town’s main church. The first basilica was built beside the Palazzo Ducale in 828 AD to house the relics of St. Mark that here were stolen, according to legend, by two Venetian merchants. During the same period the first Campanile (Bell Tower) of San Marco was built.
Replaced by a new development in 832 AD, the Basilica was destroyed by fire and re-erected in 978.
The present Basilica of San Marco is the result of a last reconstruction in year 1063 and further restoration works, after another fire, made in 1231.
The splendid mosaic works that can be admired throughout the Basilica were built between the year 1000 and the following century, the atrium (or "narthex") was added in the 13th century and only in 1400 the Basilica of San Marco, with the completion of the domes and facade, reached its current appearance.
Over the centuries and through a number of renovations and restructuring, the Basilica was decorated with materials (columns, sculptures, etc.) taken from other buildings, sometimes as far away as Costantinople (following the sacking of Constantinople in 1204). Latest additions to the Basilica of San Marco were the Baptistery, the Zen Chapel, the Sacristy and the Chapel of St. Isidoro of Chio, in the 1600 the Basilica reached its final form that today we can all admire.
The Basilica’s plan was also dedicated by the nature of the Venice soil, mainly sandy and not suitable to withstand heavy weights. Therefore the Basilica of San Marco extends more horizontally than vertically in order to distribute its weight over a wider area. The Basilica of San Marco is 76 meters long and 62 meters wide (at transept); the main dome is 43 meters high.
The plan of the Basilica of San Marco is a Greek cross with five domes distributed on the axles of the cross. The walls are unusually thin in order to maintain a low overall building weight and to avoid the risk of subsiding.
The facade is covered with mosaics, reliefs and numerous materials, often spoils of war or a crusade, giving it the characteristic polychrome appearance. The bronze doors of the Basilica of San Marco date back to different periods: the south door (Port of San Clemente) was created in year 1000 and features a Byzantine style and origin, while the central one is dated around 1100; the other doors belong to later period.
Consolidating: The chariot of the Basilica of San Marco
The chariots were used in ancient times to decorate triumphal arches, and the Quadriga of San Marco, the only example of this ornament survived to our time, was stolen as war booty from Constantinople (present day Istanbul) during the Fourth Crusade and set to decorate the portal at the center of the facade.
Today, the “horses of San Marco” are a copy of the original which can be admired in the San Marco Museum in Venice, located inside the Basilica itself.