The current appearance of the Basilica reflects the third reconstruction that took place within the Basilica’s thousand year history.
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The discovery of the body of St Mark the Evangelist prompted the then Doge Giustiniano Partecipazio to sanction the construction of a church worthy of receiving the remains of the Saint. The works began in 828 and were completed four years later, in the meantime the dogado had passed into the hands of Giovanni Partecipazio. The building of the church, together with the replacement of the Patron Saint of the city (St Mark had in fact taken over from St Theodore), marked a clear step away, on a political-cultural level, from oriental influences.
The mass uprising in 967 led to the deposition of the Doge Pietro IV Candiano IV, accused of carrying our policies that were too closely tied to West: the symbols of this uprising were the fires set in both the Ducal Palace and St Mark's Basilica. The reconstruction of this place of worship took place shortly after (around two years after the fire) and was limited to simply restoring the original structure.
A radical reconstruction was carried out during the XI century in honour of the period of economic and artistic prosperity that the city was experiencing. The works began in 1063 and were finished in 1071. The question of the decorations was however, inherently different: upon consecration (1094) the church was austere and lacking in particulars worthy of noting. There was, in fact, a slow process of enriching the artistic patrimony beginning around 1204 and coinciding with the taking of Constantinople, from which the two Byzantine elements that characterize the Basilica derive - the five wooden domes (covered in lead) and the four bronze horses placed above the central arcade of the facade that overlooks the square. Later the work of the Lombard and Florentine tajapiera (stonecutters) added decorative gothic elements to the exterior. Other works were carried out in the Sixteenth century, many under Jacopo Sansovino (whose tombstone is placed in front of the altar of the baptistery) and Bartolomeo Bon, while in the following century artists of the likes of Longhena and Giuseppe Sardi took care of the preserving the then accumulated and consolidated patrimony.
The building’s plan is a Greek Cross form divided into three aisles. The central nave is flanked by a row of six columns on each side (the basilica itself has a total of more than five hundred columns). The crypt below is accessed from the raised transept. The domes rest of a double row of large round arches supported by isolated corner pillars.
The presbytery has a decorated partition (iconostasis) that ideally separates it from the rest of the basilica; two apsidal chapels can be found at the sides dedicated to St Peter and St Clement.
The numerous designs of the mosaics inside were created by artists of caliber such as Titian, Lorenzo Lotto, Paolo Uccello (personally requested by the senate with the aim of giving power back to the Venetian mosaic school), Veronese and il Bassano. Jacopo Tintoretto also worked amongst them, designing the cartoon for the decorative mosaics on the vaults of the central dome, as well the mosaicist Bartolomeo Bozza who created The Wedding Feast at Cana in 1568.
A large part of the treasure in St Mark’s was stolen by french soldiers during the Napoleonic occupation, during which the bronze horses were also taken away, but they were subsequently returned under the Austrian domination, on the concession of Emperor Francesco I.
In 1807 the patriarchal seat was moved to the Basilica, as until then had been located near the church of San Pietro a Castello.