The Basilica of San Marco
It’s 5:30 AM and I’m wide awake. It’s bread and jam for breakfast while waiting for the city to wake up, and then off to the Basilica.
The Basilica was started in 1063, and consecrated in 1094 with the reburial of St. Mark, patron saint of the city. There’s about 2 acres of mosaic here, much of it gold leafed glass tile, dating to the 13th century. The floor is nearly as incredible as the ceiling. I reach down several times to touch the marble, the sardonyx, the lapis…the floor is much smoother than I would expect for it being made up of so many angular cuts of stone…
We enter the Treasury – a depository of loot brought back from Constantinople in 1204. An Egyptian vase, 4th century Roman glass, gilded stone chalices, lamps and pails carved from rock-crystal, and a simple milk-glass plate from China, at the time when Marco Polo had been there.
I opted out of going upstairs, not realizing I was missing the San Marco Museum – the Doge’s banquet hall which now houses tapestries, manuscripts, and the four bronze horses that you can see from the Square. But I had nearly burned my retinas with the details of this place, and was overwhelmed. I light candles for a couple of family members who had died last year and look for some relief from the open sky.
We go shopping. The first find of the day, is also the best…a second hand store which looks promising for Payne as he searches for hardware for their house. A glass case along the back wall yields a ring – a gold lion head, a symbol of Venice. I try it on, and it slips onto my finger as though it was made for me. My ring, found at last.
We see more Carnivale costume today, nearly always in pairs, strolling slowly and striking poses every few steps. A French puppeteer, with his marionettes, stands behind a waist-high stage on the street, with backgrounds that he rolls in order to change the scenery, and a microphone and earpiece that he wears like body jewelry.
We visit the Cathedral of the Salute, where I light a candle for Mischka who also died last year (one of 10 in all, a very bad year…) Half of the dome exterior is covered with scaffolding. The Salute contrasts sharply to the Basilica, with its grey, unadorned interior, and its dome inset with glass panels, which allows the entire building to flood with that beautiful Venetian light. It was built in 1630 and dedicated to the Virgin Mary to thank her for protecting the surviving Venetians from the Plague which had decimated the city earlier.
Outside the Salute, another very old church, appearing to date to the 10th-11th century, and another Carnivale costume, this one, a single Lioness…
We head back to the Rialto. A gondola ride proves cost-prohibitive, so we step onto a trajetto instead. These unadorned boats are shaped like gondolas but you stand instead of sit, as you are ferried across the canal. For the cost of a Euro, we board the “poor man’s gondola” and snap photos of the Rialto from water level at the center of the Grand Canal. So much fun!
On the other side, past the Guggenheim Museum, which is closed today, and the Palazzo Contarinin deo Bovolo, (the Bovolo Tower), the famous spiral staircase built at the turn of the 16th century, that I would never have found on my own because it is so very buried among all the other buildings, in a labyrinth of very narrow alleyways. It is also closed for restoration work, but we admire it nonetheless, and the cisterns and large marble tubs that are in the fenced off garden in front of it.
A little more shopping, and then back to the apartment for my luggage. Marie guides me onto the vaporetto going in the correct direction, which takes me to the train station, where my trip to Florence begins…