Basilica di San Marco

Venice's link to the east is on display at the Basilica di San Marco. When the original San Marco Basilica was burned during an uprising in 976, the city called on Byzantine architects to rebuild the great church. It was an important one, after all - named after Saint Mark, the patron saint of Venice.

St Marks Basilica
St Marks Basilica

The traditional symbol of Saint Mark is a lion. This goes a long way to explain the Venetians' predilection for the creature in much of its art. In fact, it is nearly impossible to visit the city without spotting dozens of them upon most Venice attractions. On walls, in paintings, even on the back of gondolas - the king of the jungle is everywhere in the island city. But especially the church and square that bear his name.

Venice San Marco Basilica
Venice San Marco Basilica

The Basilica di San Marco is a marvel of ancient architecture. It has a dome over the center and one over each arm of the cross, and the facade has numerous marble structures along with painstakingly crafted mosaics, added as if by random onto a golden background. They appear somber - narrow openings in the dome above add a thick feeling of reverence to the most holy of Venice attractions. The Four Horses of St. Mark's, in gilded bronze, stand stoically over the main entrance of the San Marco Basilica.

Italy Basilica San Marco
Italy Basilica San Marco

The body of Saint Mark went through quite a lot to reach its final resting place in Venice. Buried in Alexandria for countless years, Venetian merchants learned that his tomb was going to be transformed into a mosque by the Arab rulers at the time. Not wanting the body to suffer such an "indignity," the merchants promptly stole the body, wrapping it in bacon and other pork products such that any Muslim that inquired about or inspected their cargo would turn away in disgust. This got the body onto a vessel sailing for Venice, but it still would have to weather a heavy storm before finally making its triumphant return to Venice. The joy of the city was so great that they immediately elected Saint Mark as the Venice's patron saint and dedicated the church that would become the Basilica di San Marco.

For years after, many vessels returning to the city presented the church with a gift from overseas - perhaps an ancient Greek column or some marble statue from the Middle East. Because of this, the facade and interior of the San Marco Basilica are a curious patchwork of conflicting shapes and styles. This only adds to its illustriousness, however, and makes St. Mark's one of the top Venice attractions.

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