St. Mark's Basilica

Its shadowy, mysterious interior gleams with treasures -- golden mosaics, colored marbles, emeralds, and pearls -- making St. Mark's one of Europe's most glorious and exotic cathedrals. Because it is Byzantine in style and holds riches that a powerful Venetian state looted from Constantinople, St. Mark's has been called a "glittering robbers' den, the only church in Christendom that would not look out of place in Xanadu."

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Mostly Byzantine, the design of St. Mark's Basilica was inspired by the Church of the Twelve Apostles in Constantinople.
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The basilica mingles the decorative styles of East and West into an
Asian fantasy of domes, mosaics, glittering jewels, and carvings.
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Consecrated in 1094, the basilica is surely Venice's holiest shrine; beneath the high altar rest the mortal remains of Saint Mark the Evangelist. These bones were another prize of plunder, stolen in 828 from their tomb in Alexandria, Egypt.

Venice declared Saint Mark the city's patron saint and enshrined his bones in an earlier basilica on the same site. When that church was destroyed by fire in 976, Saint Mark's remains were thought lost. But in the 11th century, it is said, the Evangelist miraculously reappeared during mass at the new basilica, thrusting his hand out of a pillar.

The building is laid out like a Greek cross, with five bulging domes and five arched entrances. Its most famous treasure stands behind the altar in the sanctuary -- the Pala d'Oro, a golden altar screen encrusted with jewels. Fabricated in Constantinople for the doge in 976, it was later embellished by Venetian goldsmiths. In the basilica's treasury lie more riches, primarily looted from Constantinople but diminished over time by plundering and sell-offs to raise funds.

The church's museum houses a team of four gilded bronze horses that for centuries stood proudly atop St. Mark's as emblems of Venice and its unrestrained power. Due to the dangers from modern air pollution, these originals have been moved inside, replaced outside by replicas. The horses look so natural that Petrarch said he expected them to "neigh and stamp their feet." Spoils of the Fourth Crusade in 1204, the team is said to have come from Constantinople's Hippodrome, an ancient racecourse.

St. Mark's Basilica -- filled with artworks that glitter like treasure in the perpetual twilight of the interior -- continues to delight the world with the storybook spell of Xanadu itself.

Here are links to dozens of other world-famous landmarks:

Abu Simbel, EgyptEiffel Tower, FranceThe Leaning Tower of Pisa, ItalyRoman and Georgian Bath, England
The Alhambra, SpainEllora Caves, IndiaMachu Picchu, PeruSt. Mark’s Basilica, Italy
Angkor Wat, CambodiaThe Forbidden City, ChinaMont-St.-Michel, FranceSt. Paul’s Cathedral, England
Arc de Triomphe, FranceThe Golden Pavilion, JapanNeuschwanstein Castle, GermanySt. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, Italy
Borobudur, IndonesiaThe Great Buddha, JapanPalace of Versailles, FranceShwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar
Chartres Cathedral, FranceThe Great Wall of China, ChinaThe Pantheon, ItalyStonehenge, England
Christ the Redeemer Statue, BrazilGuggenheim Museum, Bilbao, SpainThe Parthenon and the Acropolis, GreeceSydney Opera House, Australia
CN Tower, CanadaHagia Sophia, TurkeyPetra, JordanThe Taj Mahal, India
The Colosseum, ItalyHouses of Parliament, EnglandPompeii, ItalyThe Temple at Karnak, Egypt
The Dome of the Rock, IsraelThe Kaaba and Al-Haram Mosque, Saudi ArabiaPotala Palace, ChinaThe Terra-cotta Army, China
Easter Island Statues, ChileKrak des Chevaliers, SyriaThe Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx, Egypt
Edinburgh Castle, ScotlandThe Kremlin and Red Square, RussiaPyramids of the Sun and Moon at Teotihuacán, Mexico


To learn more about other landmarks and vacation destinations, see:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jerry Camarillo Dunn, Jr., has worked with the National Geographic Society for more than 20 years, starting as a staff editor, writer, and columnist at Traveler magazine, then writing travel guides. His latest work is National Geographic Traveler: San Francisco. Dunn’s Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: The Rocky Mountain States has sold more than 100,000 copies. His travel pieces appear in newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and The Boston Globe. Jerry Dunn's stories have won three Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers -- the highest honor in the field. He also wrote and hosted a pilot episode for a travel show produced by WGBH, Boston's public television station.