The Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark, commonly known as Saint Mark's Basilica, is the marvelous construction that is the symbol of the magneficenza and grandeur of the Venetian Republic at the height of its splendor. An authentic 'forest of columns' composed of more than four hundred elements, covering the beautiful façade. On the upper floor, corresponding to the lodge, there are copies of the four bronze horses, which have become one of the emblems of Venice (the originals are kept inside). Inside the Basilica, on the main altar there is the inestimable golden altarpiece, decorated with more than eighty glazes and hundreds of precious stones, once exhibited only during the major religious festivals. The massive block is fourteenth century, some enamels date back to the X-XI century. The work is part of the 'Treasure of San Marco', exhibited in an environment set in a medieval tower of the old ducal castle. It houses a rare collection of icons, chalices, ornaments and reliquaries. Among the furnishings of the Basilica, the ciborium is the most visible and unnoticed. Backed by four columns completely covered with sculptures, it is adorned with marvelous slabs of green marble from Thessaly.
The first church dedicated to St. Mark was built in 820 to accommodate the body of the saint who, according to tradition, two Venetian merchants, Buono da Malamocco and Rustico da Torcello, had stolen from Alexandria. After its construction under the dogado of Giovanni Partecipazio, in 832 the Basilica was consecrated with the proclamation of Saint Mark as patron and protector of the city, in place of the previous Saint Theodore, particularly honored in the East. This first structure, destroyed by a fire in 976, during the insurrection against the doge Pietro Candiano IV, was rebuilt in a few years and re-consecrated by the doge Pietro Orseolo il Santo. Starting from 1063, under the dogado of Domenico Contarin it was demolished again to give way to the third basilica, the current one, built as a model of two buildings of Constantinople: the church of the Twelve Apostles and St. Sophia. It was consecrated in 1094, the year in which, according to a legend, the body of the saint was miraculously found in a pillar, which had been hidden during the works and then forgotten.
In its Greek cross plan it is possible to recognize the oriental Byzantine stylistic matrix, in which each of the four equal arms is concluded by a dome (plus one in the center that exceeds the roof for 12 meters). The exterior is divided into three different registers: the lower floor, the terrace and the domes, it is more developed in width, probably to distribute the weights, resting on a sandy ground, in a balanced way. The building is indeed 76.5 meters long and 62.60 wide, while the central dome is 43 meters high (28.15 inside). The five large hemispherical domes, connected by plumes, are supported by a double row of round arches.
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