St. Mark's Basilica ★★★

Basilica San Marco, Venezia
St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice. (Yes, the city is trying to do something about all the pigeons.)

The Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark's Cathedral) in Venice, Italy

The glittering gold mosaics of St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice.
The glittering gold mosaics of St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice. (Photo by Ricardo André Frantz)
Let's just come out and say it: there simply is no church in Europe more lavishly decorated, more exquisitely mosaicked, more glittering with gold than San Marco, the cathedral of Venice.

Built in the 11th century, St. Mark's guiding principle in architecture and decoration is Byzantine, but Romanesque and Gothic styles have left their mark as well over six centuries of expansion and decoration.

The atrium, ceilings, walls, and multiple domes are all encrusted with over 40,000 square feet of gold-backed mosaics crafted between the 12th and 17th centuries.

The oldest of these mosaics were created by Eastern masters, and later ones were based on cartoons by Tintoretto, Veronese, and Titian.

The inlaid stone pavement in Basilica San Marco, Venice.
The stone mosaics on the floor of St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice. (Photo by Mindy McAdams)
The floor is a reflection of the mosaic craft in marble, an undulating wonderland of color and pattern.

The church's most disappointing aspect is that it's so popular and its lines so long you are shuffled through like sightseeing cattle, kept moving along so the next batch of tourists can cram in. Still, your time inside will be unforgettable.

The Pala d'Oro altar in the Basilica di San Marco, Venezia.
The golden Pala d'Oro altar in St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice.
Don't miss popping into the baptistery alcove (adm), with a font carved by Sansovino, or checking out the presbytery (space behind the main altar) with its Pala d'Oro, a gem-studded golden trophy altar from Constantinople (adm).

The Marciano Museum upstairs

The quadriga trionfale, ancient statues of four chariot horses in St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice.
The original four horses fom the Venice cathedral Facade, now in the basilica's Marciano Museum. (Photo by morn)
Above the church proper and entered through the atrium is the Marciano Museum (a.k.a. Loggia dei Cavalli, the Loggia of the Horses), which gets you up onto a balcony and affords you a close-up look at some of those mosaics.

It also houses the original Triumphal Quadriga of four horses, replicas of which stride across the facade's roof.

These life-size bronze equines are one of Venice's treasures. Taken in 1204 from Constantinople during the crusades, their origin is murky, but they're at least ancient (AD 2nd century is the best guess), either Roman or Hellenistic.

Tips & links

Details

Basilica di San Marco / St. Mark's Cathedral ★★★
Piazza San Marco
Vaporetto: San Zaccaria, San Marco-Giardinetti, or San Marco-Vallaresso
tel. +39-041-270-8311 or +39-041-522-5205
www.basilicasanmarco.it
Book a tour: Viator.com or Context Travel
Open 9:45am–5pm (Sunday 2–5pm, or 4pm winter)

» In winter, Museo di San Marco closes 15 min. before church; Pala d'Oro and Tesoro close 30 min. before church

Church: free
Museo, tesoro, pala d'oro: Small adm each



San Marco tours
Skip the Line: Venice Walking Tour with St Mark's Basilica
• Skip the Line: Best of Venice Walking Tour including Basilica di San Marco
• Context: Venice and the East
• The Golden Basilica
• Skip the Line: St Mark's Square Highlights Tour
• The Doge's Dominion: St. Mark's Basilica and the Palazzo Ducale
• One-Day Venice: An Introduction to the City
• Skip the Line: Venice in One Day
• The Power of the Past: A Small Group Tour
• Small-Group Tour: Best of Venice Walking Tour and Grand Canal Water Taxi Ride
• Venice Shore Excursion: Small-Group Best of Venice Walking Tour and Grand Canal Taxi Ride
Tours
How long does St. Mark's take?

Planning your day: They'll try to shuffle you through in 20 minutes, but take your time, pop into the side chapels, behind the altar, and up to the Marciano Museum, sit on a pew and just admire the view, and plan to spend at least an hour to 90 minutes. Venice itineraries

San Marco rules

San Marco Ground Rules:

  1. Dress appropriately—no bare shoulders or knees (i.e. no shorts, short skirts, or tank tops).
  2. Keep respectfully silent (this is, after all, a church).
  3. This brings a disappointed groan out of everyone, but positively no photography is permitted. I know. It makes me angry, too.
Check your bags

Large bags are no longer allowed inside the basilica, and a free left luggage office has been established at Ateneo San Basso in Calle San Basso 315A on Piazzetta dei Leoni (to the left of the church facade).

Oddly (and terribly inconveniently), the bag drop opens after the basilica and closes early: Mon-Sat 10am–4:30pm, Sun 10am–4pm.

Attend mass to see the mosaics lit up

My favorite time to visit St. Mark's? On Sunday for the 6:45pm—for mass.

Mass? Yep. While the priest drones in singsong Latin at the altar, incense swirling around him from a swaying censor, you can sit in silence for an hour getting a crick in your neck.

That's because, only during the evening mass, the 40,000 square feet of glittering mosaics —which appear smoke-stained and shadowy by day—are illuminated to their full glittering glory. (They switch on the lights at other times, too, but this is the only reliable weekly one.)

Only one rule: Tourists are not allowed, so you must be discreet, arrive on time, stay in your pew, and sit quietly through to the end. Even if you are not devout (or not a Christian), this counts as a bona fide Italian cultural experience.

Though the lights are not switched on, regular masses are also held Mon-Sat at 7am, 8am, 9am, 10am, 11am, noon (except July-Aug), and 6:45pm, and Sunday at 7am, 8am, 9am, 10:30am, noon, 5:30pm (Vespers), and—the best, with illumination—6:45pm.

Nearby sights, dining, hotels

Sights nearby
★★★ Piazza San Marco [square]
Campanile di San Marco [bell tower]
★★★ Palazzo Ducale [palace/museum]
★★★ Grand Canal [sight]
Museo Civico Correr [museum]
Bacino Orseolo [gondola parking lot]

Where to eat nearby
★★★ Bistrot de Venise [meal]
Da Aciugheta [meal/pizza]
★★ Osteria a la Campana [light meal]
★★ Vino Vino [light meal]
Rosticceria Teatro Goldoni [light meal/snack]

Hotels nearby
RR Hotel Danieli (splurge)
RR Hotel ai do Mori (moderate)
RR Hotel Violino d'Oro (moderate)
RR Hotel Metropole [premier]
RR Hotel La Residenza [cheap]
RR Foresteria Valdese [super-cheap]
RR Hotel Caneva [super-cheap]

» More hotels in San Marco from Venere.com
» More hotels in San Marco from Booking.com

Venice links & resources

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Details
Basilica di San Marco / St. Mark's Cathedral ★★★
Piazza San Marco
Vaporetto: San Zaccaria, San Marco-Giardinetti, or San Marco-Vallaresso
tel. +39-041-270-8311 or +39-041-522-5205
www.basilicasanmarco.it
Book a tour: Viator.com or Context Travel
Open 9:45am–5pm (Sunday 2–5pm, or 4pm winter)

» In winter, Museo di San Marco closes 15 min. before church; Pala d'Oro and Tesoro close 30 min. before church

Church: free
Museo, tesoro, pala d'oro: Small adm each


San Marco tours
Skip the Line: Venice Walking Tour with St Mark's Basilica
• Skip the Line: Best of Venice Walking Tour including Basilica di San Marco
• Context: Venice and the East
• The Golden Basilica
• Skip the Line: St Mark's Square Highlights Tour
• The Doge's Dominion: St. Mark's Basilica and the Palazzo Ducale
• One-Day Venice: An Introduction to the City
• Skip the Line: Venice in One Day
• The Power of the Past: A Small Group Tour
• Small-Group Tour: Best of Venice Walking Tour and Grand Canal Water Taxi Ride
• Venice Shore Excursion: Small-Group Best of Venice Walking Tour and Grand Canal Taxi Ride
Nearby
Sights nearby
★★★ Piazza San Marco [square]
Campanile di San Marco [bell tower]
★★★ Palazzo Ducale [palace/museum]
★★★ Grand Canal [sight]
Museo Civico Correr [museum]
Bacino Orseolo [gondola parking lot]

Where to eat nearby
★★★ Bistrot de Venise [meal]
Da Aciugheta [meal/pizza]
★★ Osteria a la Campana [light meal]
★★ Vino Vino [light meal]
Rosticceria Teatro Goldoni [light meal/snack]

Hotels nearby
RR Hotel Danieli (splurge)
RR Hotel ai do Mori (moderate)
RR Hotel Violino d'Oro (moderate)
RR Hotel Metropole [premier]
RR Hotel La Residenza [cheap]
RR Foresteria Valdese [super-cheap]
RR Hotel Caneva [super-cheap]

» More hotels in San Marco from Venere.com
» More hotels in San Marco from Booking.com


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