As the flames of sacrifice
From the marble shrines did rise,
As to pierce the dome of gold
Where Apollo spoke of old.”
– Percy Bysshe Shelley, from “Lines Written among the Euganean Hills”
When traveling around Italy, it’s easy to get bored of visiting churches. There’s a church at every turn in every town.
“Hey, look at that cool building. Oh, it’s another church,” every traveler says, “We don’t need to go in.”
But then there are a few exceptions along the way.
During my final few days in Italy, I headed to Venice to experience the beauty and history of the tourist city I had been desperate to visit since I was a child. During my time wandering the city in search of something that wasn’t outrageously expensive, I found myself at Basilica di San Marco, St. Mark’s Basilica.
Before deciding on paying to see the Doge’s Palace, which was well worth the entrance fee, I had a look around St. Mark’s Basilica. I was already in the square and I figured I could walk in and out rather quickly. I had better luck than that as I happened to show up at the church a few minutes before the free English tour began (I’ve managed to show up in time for English tours at more than a few tourist destinations without even checking info).
The church is at the end of San Marco Square, which is one of the main tourist destinations in Venice, though I saw relatively few people during the times I was there. It’s surrounded by overpriced restaurants, the Doge’s Palace, the Campanile of St. Mark’s Church, and beautiful views out into the waterways.
St. Mark’s Basilica is impressive from the outside as well as the inside, but my luck when traveling remained consistent and part of the exterior was shrouded in scaffolding. The domes are difficult to see from the square, which is one more reason to pay to go up the Campanile, but half of them were covered during my visit. Still, I was able to see most of the ornate exterior design depicting the life of Christ that draws visitors into the church. There are also sculptures alongside the mosaic artistry.
Much like the encounter at Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, with a sense of awe, my eyes lit up upon entering St. Mark’s Basilica. This church is a work of art from floor to ceiling. There are mosaics inlaid in the marble floor (most of which are protected from the feet of stampeding tourists), paintings on the walls, and even more bright mosaics on the arches and domes.
The ceilings are covered in intricate designs — bright gold mosaics depicting more of the life of Christ shine down on visitors. With the crowd of people, it can be difficult to avoid bumping in to someone while craning one’s neck to gaze at the arches and domes. There’s more than 8,000 square meters of mosaic here and I probably only noticed a fraction of that.
The tour itself was almost a distraction from admiring the artwork of the church, but it allowed me to see a little more than most people would. Plus, how could I pass up a free tour? Even with the worst tour guide in the world, it would be worth the money not spent.
I departed St. Mark’s Basilica with a renewed appreciation for church architecture, which certainly improved my final opinion about my month in Italy before I departed for a return to Tokyo. The wonder that is the beauty of Venice was best saved for the final days of my journey in the country — I departed with a sense of remorse that hadn’t seen enough.
Where did you find a renewed appreciation for religious architecture? Did it change your perception of a city as well?