Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Venezia, day 3 – St Mark’s and Santa Maria Formosa

On Thursday morning, I was awake early; we didn't see the sun rising as we didn't have a view east, but the sky in Venice turns the palest shade of pink.

We had breakfast on the terrace, as usual, then went off to visit St Mark's. We were in the queue at 9.15 and it was worth queuing early as the loggia was deserted and we got to see the horses without a rush.

Oh, but first – the mosaics on the west front. Most of them are 19th century repro/restoration, but there is one original one above the west door.

And then we went inside and it just blew me away. The entire walls and ceilings are covered in mosaics. (Again, this is a naughty pic, but it was taken with respect because this… this was just stunningly beautiful and moving and I want to share how incredible it is.)
Each tessera has three layers, the top one being glass, which is why they shine so brightly.

We went up the incredibly steep steps to the Loggia dei Cavalli to see the horses. The ones you see outside on the Loggia are reproductions (even down to the scratches and partial gilding, thought to make them catch the sun better).
The repros are good, but the original horses really moved me. They date from the 2nd century BC and were stolen from the hipprodrome at Constantinople in 1204. It’s the only quadrigia (group of four horses harnessed to a chariot) in the world. They were cast in bronze, in two pieces; the collars hide the join.

The view from the loggia is pretty good
That’s the Doge’s palace on the left (which we didn’t get to see, sadly - we ran out of time) and the library on the right. The two granite columns you see at the end of the pic (a stretch of land called the Molo) is where criminals were executed, so superstitious people don’t walk between them. (Usually it was beheading or hanging, but three traitors were buried alive head-down here in 1405.) On the top of one, there’s a modern copy of the statue of St Theodore, the patron saint of Venice (the original is apparently in a courtyard in the Palazzo Ducale), and the bronze winged lion on the other column weighs 3,000 kilos. The lion was taken to France at one point, but in 1815 the French engineers broke it into 20 pieces to return it to Venice. It’s thought that the lion was originally a Middle Eastern monument, dating from 300 BC, and has been in Venice since at last 1293 (when documents talk about restoring it).

Inside the Basilica, we saw the Pala d'Oro; this is the famous golden altar screen, which commissioned in Constantinople in 976 and then enlarged in 1105, and then in 1209 enlarged again to incorporate items taken during the Fourth Crusade. It’s set with 15 rubies, 300 sapphires, 300 emeralds, 400 garnets, 1300 pearls and several hundred other stones, as well as enamelled plaques, roundels and chiselled figures.

The floors were marble and beautifully decorated. What really surprised me is that it wasn’t that noisy, despite being packed, as most people observed the notices requesting silence.

We also saw the Doge's rooms, which had incredible ceilings. The displays included beautiful illuminated books of hours and also 14th-century books of music - notation back then was very different so it was fascinating to see.

Then we went out for a wander to Santa Maria Formosa – a really, really beautiful church.
The bell-tower here is seen on the right of the dome in the pic above. This was probably DH’s favourite inside, and it was a huge contrast after the glitter of the Basilica – all plain and calm. I think the flowers were being arranged for a wedding.

Then we headed to the Rialto; hot panini and gelati for lunch. Madam and I both opted for panna cotta, while the boys were boring and had their usual cacao and fragola - we voted it our favourite flavour so far. And my favourite sandwich was a ‘piadina’ – a flatbread stuffed with prosciutto and pecorino cheese, toasted. Then we headed back to the hotel to drop off our shopping, so we were unencumbered for our islands excursion.


Jan Jones said...

Gosh, Kate, you must have been in splendour-overload this day!

susanwilson44 said...

Can't believe how bright the colours are on the mosaic, it's gorgeous. I went to Venice years ago with my parents and I feel as if I have visited it all over again! thanks Kate!

Kate Hardy said...

Jan - we were, a bit, which I think is why DH preferred Santa Maria Formosa. I just loved the horses. And the mosaic.

Kate Hardy said...

Susan - I couldn't believe it, either. Glad you're enjoying the pics!

Brigitte said...

Lovely photos...again.
Thanks for describing everything so vividly. Allows me re-visit all over again.

Piadinas were my favourite too. They are so delicious toasted, aren't they?

There is another group called the Quadriga, and it is on the Brandenburger Tor in Berlin.

Caroline Hartin said...

Lovely mosaics! I *wish* I could paint like that (sigh). Lovely pics again Kate. You were so lucky not to have been caught up in all this travel chaos. Caroline x

Kate Hardy said...

Brigitte - glad you're enjoying it. And thanks for telling me about the horses in Berlin - seems they're a modern (ish!) copy of the ones in Venice. They're now on my list of places to visit :o)

And yes, piadinas are lovely toasted!

Kate Hardy said...

Caroline - they really were so stunning.

AS for the travel chaos - it was quite enough for us, arriving at the airport in good time and seeing the word 'cancelled' next to our flight. We ended up travelling 175 miles west to Milan, via bus, train and shuttle... but I'll do a blog post on that later :o) Am relieved we agreed to do that rather than wait for a flight from Venice, or we would've been caught up in the chaos - and one night in a freezing cold, noisy airport was more than enough for me!

Lacey Devlin said...

The mosaics are incredible. I'm so glad you took a naughty picture :D. I just loved the church. I've never seen anything like it. Fascinating!

Shirley Wells said...

I'm catching up here - so I get a week's worth in one go. Yay.
Lovely pics again and I simply adore those horses.