Sunday, September 20, 2009

Marble Patterns

On my previous visits to Venice I've been disctinctly underwhelmed by St Mark's basilica and been unable to understand what all the fuss was about. I now realise why: in the past I've visited as the evening was drawing in so as to avoid the crowds. This means that the beautiful golden mosaics were almost invisible since they are not lit up except under one small dome and so I trudged around an almost completely darkened church being very disinclined to pay money for any of the subsidiary attractions in the building - in fact, on previous occasions have been quite glad to get out.

This time was different. The sun was blazing outside and illuminating the roof which simply comes alive and R and I had already decided that on honeymoon you don't begrudge the extra little expenses so, hardly expecting much at all we paid our coin to troop around the back of the altar to look at the Pala d'Oro (the golden screen). Which was breath-taking. It's the first thing in a long while to give me a real 'wow' moment: a golden alter screen of real gold maybe 10ft long and 4ft high decorated with the most intricate enamels depicting an army of saints. It was made more or less entirely of loot from the fourth crusade and contains 157 enamels, 300 sapphires, 400 garnets, 15 rubies, 1300 pearls and a couple of hundred other stones. No picture can do it justice. To enounter it at the back of the church, lit to make it luminous, just steps away from the tomb containing the body of St Mark was an unexpectedly touching moment.

Then, we payed a few more coins to climb the long, steep stairway to the heavens. The gallery which runs around the top of the church, right up amongst the mosaics and which allows access to the balcony on the outside of the church on a level with the four horses. We sat for some long time in the shady warmth of the balcony in front of the external mosaic of St Nicholas, watching the crowds in St Mark's Square. That would have been worth the entrance fee alone but there's a whole museum up there, a long, winding museum of sculpture, art, mosaic, fabrics and some beautiful illuminated manuscript books.

And among the highlights, not up in the roof but on the floor. The geometric and other designs on the floor of the basillica (above) are quite beautiful. Dan Brown would have a field day in here mining sigificance from beauty.


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