Anyone with an appreciation for history, art, and architecture owes themselves a visit to St. Mark’s Basilica. This historic cathedral in Venice is as astounding to learn about as it is to witness. Here are some local tips for how to have the best experience when visiting St. Mark’s Basilica.
Understand the Significance
St. Mark’s Basilica is named for and houses at least some of the remains of St. Mark, one of the four authors of the biblical gospels. His body was taken from Alexandria, Egypt, where he was their first bishop (or patriarch). The basilica was first consecrated in 832, but arson in the next century necessitated rebuilding. 1063 was when construction began on the church as we know it today. Since then, it has become almost as venerated as the saints it honors. As patron saint of Venice, St. Mark’s influence is felt all over the city, most notably through the bronze winged lion statue sitting atop one of two large granite columns at the water’s edge of Piazza San Marco, a stunning artistic depiction of his symbol.
Appreciate the Architecture
The byzantine stylings of St. Mark’s Basilica take their cues from Constantinople, particularly its Church of the Holy Apostles. The most eye-catching aspect is arguably the five domes that stand atop the basilica, forming a bit of a cross formation (similarly, the inside of the basilica has a layout based on a Greek cross). As you walk through this opulent glory, you’ll be sure to crane your neck in wonder as you work to absorb each and every detail, from the floors to the highest points of domes.
Examine the Mosaics
St. Mark’s Basilica’s immense size and beautiful architecture are more than enough to move you, but it’s the mosaics that could leave you speechless. Roughly 40,000 square feet of the cathedral is comprised of mosaics, depicting famous scenes from the Bible and Christian legend, including Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden of Eden, and the Harrowing of Hell (also known as the Anastasis), in which Jesus arrives in Hell to save souls that were condemned prior to his crucifixion. The detail on these gorgeous, shimmering mosaics is vivid to the point of being chills-inducing. You will never forget it.
See the Pala d’Oro
In a place that’s overflowing with beautiful sights, the Pala d’Oro might be the crown jewel of St. Mark’s Basilica. Meaning “golden pall” or “golden cloth”, this is a stunning altarpiece made of gold and silver and measuring approximately ten feet in width with a height of approximately six feet.The Pala d’Oro is enameled by hundreds of gems, including ruby, topaz, sapphire, and emerald. Tradition necessitates that the Pala d’Oro remain covered, only to be revealed during special liturgical events. A special wood painting, known as a “ferial” is used to cover it. Showcasing its devotion to Christianity and hagiography, the Pala d’Oro depicts Christ in the center, surrounded by saints.
Should you be looking for a breathtaking experience that will bring both history and religion to life, make sure to visit St. Mark’s Basilica. No trip to Venice is complete without seeing this magnificent cathedral. Take the time to learn about the remarkable history of St. Mark’s Basilica before you go and stay present as you enjoy its glory — try to appreciate every detail of it.
It is important to remember the St. Mark’s Basilica is a church and a sacred site, so visitors must be respectful when visiting and wear modest clothing that covers shoulders and knees. It is not permitted to take photos or video, and luggage or large bags must be checked before entering. Skip the line tickets are available from April 1 to November 2, and can be purchased here. To avoid the crowds, its best to visit either first thing in the morning, or at among the last entrance times of the day.
Remember that St. Mark’s Square can be very crowded, especially in the high season. For a better experience in the city, after you see the cathedral, use the Prontopia app to request in-person help from a friendly Local finding non-touristy spots to eat nearby, or getting to your next activity without the hassle of the crowds, the local way!
October 29 – April 15:
Basilica: 9.30 a.m. – 5.00 p.m. (entrance free – last admission 4.45 p.m.) – Sunday and holidays: 2.00 p.m. – 4.30 p.m. (entrance free – last admission 4.15 p.m.; last admission “skip the line” 4.00 p.m.)
St. Mark’s Museum: 9.45 a.m. – 4.45 p.m. (entrance: ticket 5 €)
Pala d’oro: 9.45 a.m. – 4.45 p.m. – Sunday and holidays: 2.00 p.m. – 4.30 p.m. (entrance: ticket 2 €)
Treasury: 9.45 a.m. – 4.45 p.m. – Sunday and holidays: 2.00 p.m. – 4.30 p.m.(entrance: ticket 3 €)
April 16 – October 28:
Basilica: 9.30 a.m. – 5.00 p.m. (entrance free – last admission 4.45 p.m.) – Sunday and holidays: 2.00 p.m. – 5.00 p.m. (entrance free – last admission 4.45 p.m; last admission “skip the line” 4.30 p.m.)
St. Mark’s Museum: 9.35 a.m. – 5.00 p.m. (entrance: ticket 5 €)
Pala d’oro: 9.35 a.m. – 5.00 p.m. – Sunday and holidays: 2.00 p.m. – 5.00 p.m. (entrance: ticket 2 € )
Treasury: 9.35 a.m. – 5.00 p.m. – Sunday and holidays: 2.00 p.m. – 5.00 p.m.(entrance: ticket 3 € )