Saint Mark's Basilica, Venice
Today, we left Ravenna and took a train to Venice. While I wish the US had such an extensive and efficient train network, both our transfers (to and from Ravenna) in Bologna were tight and nerve wracking, especially with a five year old who is relearning to walk and luggage for a whole family. After arriving at the Venice train station, we boarded a water bus, which ferried us around Venice, past St. Mark’s Basilica,Piazza, and Doge’s Palace, to our stop, Arsenale.
We checked into our apartment (right on a canal, near Arsenale, the old shipyard), and turned around to get a quick bite of pizza for lunch. It was surprisingly like New York pizza and unlike anything else in the rest of Italy. We wandered through the narrow streets towards St. Mark’s Basilica. Really, the streets are more like alleys or hallways, often only 10-20 feet wide. There are no cars, the only transportation here is by foot or boat.
We arrived at the square and waited in a long line to get in the basilica. While in line, we got to admire the beautiful facade.
The Basilica was built in the 11th century to replace an earlier church housing the relics of the Apostle and Evangelist Mark, who the Venetians stole from Alexandria in the 9th century.
The church is primarily Byzantine in design (cross-in-square with domes, unlike the rectangular basilica design common in the west) and is richly adorned with golden mosaics. This gives us a glimpse of the splendor of monumental Christian churches within the Byzantine Empire. In the East, the Turks often stripped significant churches of their splendid decorations and converted them to mosques. Here the splendor remains to this day on full display.
In fact, a lot of eastern splendor can be seen here, since the Venetians plundered Constantinople in 1204. The horses above the entrance are from Constantinople’s hippodrome, and many relics, treasures, and gold were looted from the City’s churches.
We can see here the full iconographic vision expressed. We see a golden, heavenly background, which reflects the light differently depending on the ever-changing sunlight. We see the saving work of Christ in the vaults, and the saints further down, closer to us. At eye-level, the walls are covered in lavish bookmarked marble revetments.
While the Basilica itself was awesome, the experience was not. St. Mark’s Square and the Basilica were clearly some of the city’s biggest tourist traps, and they were so uncomfortably crowded. I felt quite rushed inside, pushed along by the massive crowd. We also arrived a little later than I had hoped, so we spent less than an hour and a half inside before closing. I’m not sure if it was the light, or if the mosaics have not been cleaned or restored, but the golden mosaics seemed quite dark, dull, and dingy after spending so much time in Ravenna and Sicily and seeing much more brilliant mosaics.
After leaving the basilica, I stopped to greet the four Tetrarchs, a 4th century porphyry statue of Constantine and his three other co-rulers. This was among the spoils of 1204 and set into the facade.
We walked away from the crowds of tourists and back towards the neighborhood where we’re staying. We ate a delicious dinner of pumpkin lasagna and pistachio pesto pasta with scallops. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset with some gelato before retiring.