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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Piazza San Marco, Venice

After two solid days of galleries and pavilions, we were truly 'arted out.' It was time to visit Venice's main attractions at the Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark's Square), including the Campanile, the Basilica San Marco, and the Doge's Palace.  The Campanile was a quick elevator ride to the top, where we were blasted by freezing gusts of wind while looking out over Venice, and far beyond to snow-capped peaks.  We were surprised at how close Venice was to huge mountains.

We went to the Doge's Palace next.  Unfortunately, photography is prohibited inside.  The palace consists of a series of huge, dark wood-paneled council chambers with 40' walls and coffered ceilings.   The walls and ceilings are covered with massive paintings by some famous and not as famous artists.  A lot of the original paintings by more famous artists, such as Tintoretto, were destroyed in a fire, so the current paintings are a mix of the ones that survived, and, new replacement paintings.

I really enjoyed some of the paintings of sieges and sea battles.  My favorite painting depicted the battle of Lepanto in 1571. Some historians assert that Turkish victory could have led to Western Europe being overrun, as had happened to the Byzantine Empire a little more than a century earlier.  You can view a sadly inadequate reproduction of the painting here:  Battle of Lepanto - Andrea Vicentino  In the actual painting, you can see details such as how soldiers continued to fight with multiple arrows in them, the actual clothes leaders of both sides were wearing, flags waving from the tops of masts, oars of the galleys, the ropes of the rigging, etc.  The painting is probably 50 feet long and 25 feet high - truly eye-max. You could spend hours discovering all the details in this painting.

We've been to numerous churches, cathedrals, and basilicas all over the world, but we'd never seen anything quite like the Basilica San Marcos.  The Christian Byzantine Empire, based in what was known as Constantinople (now Istanbul), was a great power for the first few centuries of the Venetian Empire, and was a major influence on this Basilica.  Architects and artisans traveled between the cities and worked together, so whenever one or the other came up with something great, the other would copy and improvise on it.

The basilica has four domes surrounding a central dome, which is a characteristic Byzantine design; very unusual for a Western European church.  Aside from the Byzantine design, the basilica's distinguishing characteristic is the overwhelming vista of gold mosaic covering the entire upper interior, including the arches and insides of all the domes.  Embedded in this all-encompassing gold ceiling mosaic are countless mosaics depicting biblical and patriotic themes.  The overall effect is amazing.  In the photos below, there is NO PAINT!  I love it so much because it's all mosaic work.

These two are closer up, so you can see some of the separate pieces of stone in the mosaic.  Did I mention there's NO PAINT in these photos!?

This is the front of a navy building adjacent to the entrance of the Arsenal harbor.  Venetians have an affinity for Poseidon, god of the oceans, and the lion of Saint Mark is the symbol of the Venetian republic. There are winged lions everywhere you look in Venice.

Another winged lion, with the clock tower in Piazza San Marco behind it.

Winged lion with halo even.  The book is said to represent all sorts of things, such as law, or the republic.  Maybe it was a nascent concept of a constitution, because Venice was not a monarchy based on inheritance, like most of Europe.  The doge was selected by a council of the rich and powerful.

A view of the Campanile (bell tower) looking past one of the columns of the Doge's Palace.

The side of the basilica, with the front of the Doge's Palace in the foreground.  The little mushroom hats at the top of the domes are an exotic touch, but even the shape of the domes themselves is odd - their height is extended by a cylindrical section at the base, then they curve inward.  There is a gap of maybe 20-40 feet between the dome's interior and exterior.  There is a whole truss of huge wooden beams between the inner and outer parts of the domes.

Here's a view of the domes from above, looking down from the Campanile.  The one to the rear is covered in scaffolding.

Here's a cutaway view of the domes so you can see what I mean about the inside and outside of the domes being completely separate.  This illustration is from a paper by Luigi Fregonese and Laura Taffurelli, describing how the team used laser scanners to construct a detailed three-dimensional model of the dome support structure.

Mandatory Venice gondola photo....

The famous winged lion of Venice, symbol of the republic, with pigeon.

That evening, the sun attempted to escape the grip of the clouds, but never quite made it.

When it was time to go home, we had fun taking the airport boat shuttle.  It was a small boat with room for about 14 passengers.  It had a sunken enclosed cabin, with cushioned white pleather seats in an oval facing each other along the sides.  Above the backs of the seats was a thin row of windows.  For the first half of the trip, while we were still in the Grand Canal of Venice, most of the people in our boat turned around and knelt in the seats so they could watch the boats, palazzos, and people.  Once we reached open water, it was just gentle rocking, darkness, and the sound of the waves sloshing on the hull.  Then we pulled up to a brightly lit pier like a bus stop and hopped off.  From there, it was a seven minute walk (the signs said so) to the front door of the terminal.  Highly recommended!

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