October 4, 2012

0351 ITALY (Veneto) - Saint Mark's Basilica - part of Venice and its Lagoon (UNESCO WHS)

Basilica di San Marco (St Mark's Basilica), the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice, is the most famous of the city's churches. The most famous but also the most byzantine, to use a term entered in Europeans language long after the fall of Constantinople (1453), because as long as there was, the Eastern Roman Empire's successor has been appointed either Basileia Rhomaion (in Greek) or Imperium Romanum (in Latin) or simply Romania (not to be confused with the current Romania). How much owes Venice (and Western Europe generally) to Constantinople, it's impossible to quantify.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Europe has become, for many hundreds of years, field of maneuver for various migrating peoples. Only towards the end of the millennium the current nations were formed, and states able to produce and radiate culture has really rennet just to the beginning of the next millennium. Meanwhile Constantinople managed to maintain and even grow in some periods, with sword, by cunning or by bags of gold. All of Europe envied its wealth, splendor and refinement, but also the level reached in art, science, and building. Some took it as a model, others as a rival, or even as a prey.

Constantinople was the main hub in the trading network which link Eurasia and North Africa, and the primary western terminus of the famous Silk Road, so was very important for Venice, Genoa and Pisa. During the 12th century, Venetian merchants benefited by the full exemption from customs duties in the Byzantine Empire, that was the main reason of the economic growth of the lagoon city. Finally, the Venetians' wealth and arrogance provoked a profound hostility in Constantinople, so that in 1171 were confiscated their goods, and in 1182 the locals massacred the Latin population of Constantinople.

Venice wanted to control trade in all the eastern Mediterranean, and the Byzantine Empire was the main obstacle. Consequently when the Pope Innocent III broached the subject of a new crusade (the 4th), the Venetians got involved seriously, the Doge Enrico Dandolo being both artificer and protagonist. In 1204 the Crusaders conquered Constantinople, which was subjected to pillage and massacres for three days. Proclaiming the fall of the ancient Eastern Empire, they established that its territory and its riches should be divided among the participants. 

Greek historian Nicetas Choniates describes in detail the barbarities committed by Crusaders: "After opening the coffins of the emperors which are in the Heroum, erected near the magnificant Church of the disciples of Jesus Christ, they pillaged them all during the night; and, in violation of the laws of equity, they took away all the ornaments in gold, pearls, and precious transparent stones, which had so long remained untouched in that sacred place." For skeptics, here's confirmation from Geoffrey of Villehardouin, knight and crusader: "... never, since the world was created, had so much booty been won in any city."

Its place would be taken by the Latin Empire of Constantinople, and a great colonial empire was thus formed, Venice gained an immense booty of riches, and its sea power was enormously increased. It is said that the total amount looted from Constantinople was about 900,000 silver marks, i.e. the equivalent of about 23 tons of gold. The Venetians received 150,000, the Crusaders 50,000, another 100,000 were divided evenly up between the Crusaders and Venetians, and the remaining 500,000 were kept by the knights.

Among the works of art looted from Constantinople were the four horses which were installed on the terrace of the façade of St. Mark's Basilica in 1254 (now the originals are inside the basilica). The horses, along with the quadriga with which they were depicted, were long displayed at the Hippodrome of Constantinople. They are so beautifully crafted, that many specialists say that only one of the greatest sculptors of antiquity, Pheidias, or Lysippus, Alexander's the Great's favourite sculptor, must have made them. Famous are also the bright mosaics containing gold, bronze, and the greatest variety of stones and covers an area of about 8000 m2.

In the most works, Byzantine, Islamic and Gothic influences can be recognized. The first mosaics, in the eastern part of the basilica, were made in the late 11th and early 12th centuries, but the decoration was completed only after Constantinople was taken in 1204. Some historians say that nine-tenths of basilica's treasury come from the looting of Constantinople. Actually, the treasury contains what is now a unique collection of Byzantine portable objects in metalwork, enamel and hardstone carving.

Saint Mark's Basilica is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Venice and its Lagoon, about which I wrote here

About the stamp
The stamp belongs to a series of definitive stamps, about which I wrote here.

This is a post for Postcard Friendship Friday #136, hosted on Beth's blog The Best Hearts are Crunchy. Click on the button below to visit all the other participants.

St Mark's Basilica - Wikipedia
History of Venice - History World
The role of Venice in the fourth Crusade - Basilica di San Marco
The Mystery of Who Made the Horses - Wonders and Marvels
Mosaics in the atrium of Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice - Qantara, Mediterranean Heritage
Historia, by Niketas Choniates - King's College London
Chronicle of The Fourth Crusade and The Conquest of Constantinople, by Geoffrey de Villehardouin - Fordham University
Cruciadele, volum colectiv - Editura Artemis, Bucureşti, 1999

Sender: Ana
Sent from Mrkopalj (Croatia), on 20.08.2012


  1. There is always so much wonderful information on your posts!
    Venice was one of my favourite cities when I visited Europe.
    And I dream of one day seeing Istanbul.

  2. A destination for those passionate about art and exploring an amazing cultural heritage.