Dec 13, 2010

Piazza S. Marco, Venezia

A few days ago, I was having lunch with my mother and she gave me this card. It is in bad condition, but it is of great value to me because it was sent on 17 April 1971 from my mother and her sister to their father [my grandfather]. During that time there was military junta in Greece, that lasted from 1967 to 1974. My aunt and my grandfather have passed away, so this card brings me a lot of memories..

The card shows Piazza di San Marco during high tide (Acqua Alta). St Mark's Basilica (Basilica di San Marco in Italian) is the most famous of the many churches of Venice and one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture in the world. Located just off the Grand Canal, the gleaming basilica dominates Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square) and adjoins the Doge's Palace. San Marco is a cathedral: it has been the seat of the Archbishop of Venice since 1807.
The first St. Mark's church in Venice was a temporary building in the Doge’s Palace, constructed in 828, when Venetian merchants stole the supposed relics of Saint Mark the Evangelist from its original resting place in Alexandria, Egypt. It is said the Venetians hid the relics in a barrel under layers of pork to get them past Muslim guards. The escapade is depicted in the 13th-century mosaic above the door farthest left of the front entrance of the Basilica.
The original St. Mark's church was replaced by a new one on the present site in 832. The new church was burned in a rebellion in 976, rebuilt in 978, and finally to form the basis of the present basilica in 1063. The basilica was consecrated in 1094, the same year the body of Saint Mark was supposedly rediscovered in a pillar by Vitale Falier, doge of Venice at the time. The crypt then housed the relics until 1811. The building also incorporates a low tower, believed by some to have been part of the original Doge's Palace.
While the basic structure of the building has been little altered, its decoration changed greatly over time. The succeeding centuries, especially the fourteenth, all contributed to its adornment, and seldom did a Venetian vessel return from the Orient without bringing a column, capitals, or friezes, taken from some ancient building, to add to the fabric of the basilica. Gradually, the exterior brickwork was been covered with various marbles and carvings, some much older than the building itself. A new frontage was constructed and the domes were covered with higher wooden domes in order to blend in with the Gothic architecture of the redesigned Doge's Palace.
St. Mark's Basilica is designed on a Greek cross floorplan and modeled after Constantine's Church of the Holy Apostles (now destroyed) and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Each arm of the Greek cross has a central nave with side aisle; a narthex in the west end provides the flat surface for the grand facade.

Basilica San Marco floor plan

Inside, the first thing you notice are the gilded mosaics that cover the walls and ceilings — an area of around 8,000 square meters. The 12th-century interior mosaics recount events of the New Testament, with the message of Christian salvation. The 13th-century mosaics depict scenes from the Old Testament, in particular the books of Genesis and Exodus, providing a thematic preparation for the interior.
Interwoven with this main plan are such motifs as the story of the Virgin, the martyrdoms of St. Peter and St. Clement, and events in the lives of St. John the Evangelist, St. John the Baptist and St. Isadore, the great pantheon of saints venerated by the Venetians. But most important of all are the cycles with the legend of St. Mark. The gold background is meant to impress, but also symbolizes the Divine and the light of God himself.
The intricately-patterned floor is a 12th-century mixture of mosaic and marble in geometric patterns and animal designs. A red medallion in the floor of the porch inside the main door marks the spot where, in 1177, Doge Sebastiano Ziani orchestrated the reconciliation between Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor, and Pope Alexander III.
Over the high altar is a baldacchino on columns decorated with 11th-century reliefs. The altarpiece is the famous Pala d'Oro (Golden Pall), a panel of gold embedded with gems. It was commissioned from Byzantine goldsmiths in 976 and further embellished over the centuries. Napoleon stole some of the precious stones in 1797, but there are still plenty left, gleaming behind protective glass.
The choir stalls are embellished with inlaying by Fra Sebastiano Schiavone, and above them on both sides are three reliefs by Sansovino. On the two marble pulpits of the ambo are statuettes by the Massegne brothers (1394). Also in the choir are Sansovino's bronze statues of the Evangelists and Caliari's of the Four Doctors.
The Horses of Saint Mark were installed on the basilica in about 1254. They date to Classical Antiquity; by some accounts they once adorned the Arch of Trajan. The horses were long displayed at the Hippodrome of Constantinople, and in 1204 Doge Enrico Dandolo sent them back to Venice as part of the loot sacked from Constantinople (Istanbul) in the Fourth Crusade. They were taken by Napoleon in 1797, restored in 1815 and remained in place until the 1990s. They now reside in the basilica's museum in an upper gallery; replicas take their place on the facade.
The Tesoro (Treasury), to the far right of the main altar, has an impressive collection of the Crusaders' plunder from Constantinople as well as other icons and relics gathered by the church over the years. [link]

I've been in Venice during Acqua Alta and it is surely a unique experience!!

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