Basilica di San Marco, San Marco, Venice
Tel: 39 041 270 8311
Concierge.com's insider take:
Entering St. Mark's Square from its western end and suddenly confronting this glittering, magnificent Byzantine cathedral has been the oh-wow moment for countless Venice visitors. But the 11th-century exterior, with its soaring domes, spires, and statuary, is only the beginning. Inside the basilica, one and a half square miles of dazzling, painstakingly assembled mosaics cover the interior walls and ceilings. And myriad other treasures testify to the Venetians' love of the ornate—and also to looting. The spectacular, gem-encrusted Pala d'Oro altarpiece is one of the few artifacts inside that weren't filched from conquered lands; the original bronze Horses of San Marco, on display inside (the ones currently adorning the cathedral's facade are replicas), were stolen from Constantinople's Hippodrome in 1204. In the crush of visitors, it's easy to lose sight of the basilica's real function—but if you drop by for 7 a.m. Mass, you'll see the early-morning light streaming onto the mosaics, and hear the prayers of a congregation that still thinks of this monument as its parish church.
Basilica and Museo open daily 9:45–5, April–Sept; 9:45–4:45, Oct–March. Pala d'Oro and Treasury museum open as above, except Sun 2–5, April–Sept; 1–5, Oct–March.