Where: Venice, Northern Italy
When: 828 – 1810 AD
History: 9th century Alexandrian era Basilica, based on Constantinople architecture, housing the Venetians great stolen treasures from Egypt, surrounded by a 12th century elegant piazza for pageants, processions, and festivities.
Go there for: Elegant outdoor cafe culture and people watching
St. Mark’s Square – ‘the finest drawing room in the world’
St. Mark’s Square is the centre of Venetian civic life. The piazza was created in the twelfth century at a moment when Venice faced financial ruin, yet the Venetians reached into their own pockets to create what Napoleon dubbed ‘the finest drawing room in the world’ – a showpiece for pageants, processions, political activities and countless carnival festivities.
The piazza and its two flanking piazzette have looked essentially the same since 1810 when theNapoleonica was added to the west end to close in Mauro Codussi‘s long arcade. The fifth century Procuratie Vecchie lies on the north side and the sixteenth century Sanovino’sProcuratie Nuove on the south. Inside and outside these elegant buildings there is plenty to entertain with elegant cafés, open air orchestras, and smart boutiques beneath the arcades of the Procuratie.
St. Mark’s Basilica
As a result of its unique location, the city’s commercial and navy fleets became the most powerful in the Adriatic. But what the Venetian Republic lacked was a spiritual figurehead to give them power which would match any city in Europe, so they stole one of the most sacred relics of the medieval world – St. Mark from Alexandria in Egypt. These relics are housed in St. Mark’s Basilica, one of the greatest treasures of the Western world although its Eastern-style architecture may be more reminiscent of Istanbul.
Building work on the first chapel to mark the arrival of St Mark began in AD 828. Modelled onConstantinople Church of the Twelve Apostles, it embodies a magnificent blend of different architectural and decorative styles, dominated by Byzantine and ranging through to Gothic andRenaissance. St. Mark’s is one of the most spectacular houses of worship in the world, attesting to the Venetian Republic’s former maritime and commercial strength. The mosaics above the doorways depict the stealing of St. Mark’s corpse. The story goes that two Venetian merchants persuaded the guardians of his Alexandrian tomb to let them have the corpse, which they smuggled into their ship and covered in pork to prevent inspection from the Muslim customs inspectors.
By Nicole Dudley