The Basilica di San Marco (St Mark’s Basilica) is the cathedral church of Venice. It is located in the Piazza San Marco, which has always been the center of Venetian public and religious life.
The construction of the Basilica, which initially was going to be a prolongation of the Palazzo Ducale, began in 828 to house Saint Mark’s relics which had been smuggled out of Alexandria. Although the current building is from the eleventh century, it has been renovated and modified throughout the centuries.
The current Basilica is built in the shape of a Latin cross and has five domes. It became the city’s cathedral in 1807. It has over 4,000 square meters of mosaics, some from the thirteenth century, and 500 columns from the third century.
Visiting the Basilica
The Basilica’s interior is predominantly gold-coloured, hence its nickname “Chiesa d’Oro” (Golden Church). The main dome of the religious building is called Ascension Dome and is covered in early thirteenth-century mosaics, which depict scenes from the New Testament. The mosaics found in the church’s atrium are made of small glass tiles with gold leaf on them. These represent scenes from the Old Testament.
St Mark's relics are contained in the high altar of the church, held up by four marble and alabaster columns.
Although the entrance to the Basilica is free, there are parts of the temple that require an entrance ticket, for example, the Museum, the Treasury and the Pala d’Oro:
The Museum and the Horses of St. Mark
The Museo di San Marco is, in our opinion, the most interesting visit of those previously mentioned. The museum gives you the opportunity to observe the Basilica’s ceilings and mosaics up close, and most importantly, to see the magnificent original sculptures of the Horses of St. Mark. The museum also contains other artwork, which is worth discovering.
The four gold-plated bronze horses were originally in the Hippodrome of Constantinople and were pillaged during the Fourth Crusade.
The replicas of the Horses of St. Mark stand in the Logia dei Cavalli (St Mark’s Basilica front balcony).
During the Fourth Crusade, the Venetians sacked Constantinople and brought with them a collection of gold and silver items contained in the Basilica’s Treasury.
The Pala d’Oro
The Pala d’Oro is a retable with precious stones made by medieval goldsmiths. It is located in the high altar of the Basilica.
Tips before visiting the Basilica
We suggest wearing clothes that cover your shoulders and are knee-length to access St Mark’s Basilica, otherwise, you might not be allowed in. Moreover, you cannot enter the building with luggage. If you have a large backpack or suitcase you can deposit it in the free lockers in Ateneo San Basso (Piazzetta dei Leoncini).
If you would like to skip the lines, and see the best of the basilica, take a look at our guided tour
Daily from 9:30 am until 5 pm
Sunday: from 2 pm until 4 pm (The Basilica opens until 5 pm between 16th April and 28th October)
Basilica: free entrance
St Mark’s Museum: € 5 (US$ 6)
Treasure of St Mark’s: € 3 (US$ 3.60)
Pala d’Oro: € 2 (US$ 2.40)
Water Bus: San Zaccaria or San Marco, lines 1, 2, 41, 42, 51, 52, N and LN.