Eastern Architectural Influences

Plan:

Figure 1 Plan of San Marco. http://www.sacred-destinations.com/italy/venice-san-marco-pictures/slides/plan3-ca.htm
Figure 1 Plan of San Marco. http://www.sacred-destinations.com/italy/venice-san-marco-pictures/slides/plan3-ca.htm

The plan is centralized with a square, domed central bay (Figure 1). The plan is not that of a basilica, but instead the Greek Cross with four square arms jutting out from the central apse, each of which are roofed with a dome. The chancel is slightly extended and has an “apsidal semicircular eastern termination.[1]” Flanking the chancel are two smaller radial apse, which are similar to those found in the basilica plan of the Torcello Cathedral. The eastern arm is raised higher than the rest because the evangelist’s remains were to be housed underneath. [2]

The Byzantine Influence on Architecture

Figure 2: Exterior of Hagia Sofia, Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles Istanbul, Turkey, 537.

The next possible source archeologists cite is Hagia Sofia (Figure 2), the center of Byzantine religion itself. Both follow the Greek cross plan like San Marco, which was the common construction of a church dedicated to an apostle. More specifically, each subsidiary section is then broken into smaller Greek cross plans. Four barrel-vaulted spaces buttress each of the four major sections of the church causing for a striking upward motion that is capped off by the dome. While it is difficult to see the Byzantine origin from the now primarily Gothic façade, during the 11th century the basilica would have looked from the exterior more similar to a Byzantine church without the multiple cupolas and ornate designs. At its heart San Marco was built to resemble and reference Byzantium .[4]

Islamic Influence on Architecture:

While architecturally San Marco is primarily a Byzantine church, there are also Islamic flares and additions that have been combined with the Byzantine architecture to show Venice’s allegiance to both worlds. Alexandria was a major port for Venetian merchants and as such much of the Islamic architecture harkens to the Egyptian city. Most notably are the five “bulbous” cupolas that cap the lower, Byzantine domes (Figure 3). These were built around 1267. Having multiple domes and the construction the domes follow give a similar look to the skyline of Cairo’s City of the Dead (Figure 4). Also, by raising the domes they were now much more visible from the water and within the city emphasizing its role as the center of the city.

Figure 3Domes of San Marco, Venice, Italy. http://www.flickr.com/photos/clixyou/374871950/
Figure 3 Domes of San Marco, Venice, Italy. http://www.flickr.com/photos/clixyou/374871950/
Figure 4 City of the Dead, Cairo, Egypt. © John Nakata/Corbis. http://pro.corbis.com/search/Enlargement.aspx?CID=isg&mediauid=AEDB79F7-5179-48C0-A59D-624F4CB459D4
Figure 4:City of the Dead, Cairo, Egypt. © John Nakata/Corbis. http://pro.corbis.com/search/Enlargement.aspx?CID=isg&mediauid=AEDB79F7-5179-48C0-A59D-624F4CB459D4

 

Another embellishment, the pink and white marble facings on the upper arches on the northern façade (Figure 5 ), that are commonplace among Mamluk decoration (Figure 6). It is notable that they encase a relief of Alexandria. The origin of the pink and white motifs is from the Mamluk culture but it seems that there use on San Marco as well as other Venetian structures such as the Ca’d’Oro and the Ducal Palace is a great example of how Venice has assimilated Eastern culture and used it in their own.[5]

Figure 5: St. Mark the Evangelist, c.1260.  North Façade. Vio, St.Mark's, 164
Figure 5: St. Mark the Evangelist, c.1260. North Façade. Vio, St.Mark’s, 164
Figure 6: Entrance to Sultan QaitBay, 1474 AD, Cairo, Egypt.  http://flickr.com/photos/79328728@N00/40778587
Figure 6: Entrance to Sultan QaitBay, 1474 AD, Cairo, Egypt. http://flickr.com/photos/79328728@N00/40778587 

[1] Concina, 24-27

[2] Deborah Howard. The Architectural History of Venice. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002. 18-21

[3] Richard Goy, 151

[4] Richard Goy 150-152

[5] Howard, Deborah. Venice & the East: the Impact of the Islamic world on Venetian Architecture 1100-1500. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993. 99-100.

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Hagia Sophia does not follow the plan of a Greek Cross. It is a domed basicila.

St. Mark’s plan most closely resembles that of the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople, long since destroyed.

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