Sunday, 14 April 2019

Looking Far to the Future: San Marco - The Basilica of Venice in the Third Millennium

Sala del Maggior Consiglio - Great Council Chamber - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Power. Glory. Wealth. The sheer magnificence of the Great Council Chamber inside Palazzo Ducale is overwhelming. The immense hall was where the noblemen of the Great Council of the Venetian Republic convened, the 1,000 to 2,000 aristocrats who composed the most important political body of Venice and who were the guardians of the laws of State. The Great Council met for the first time in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio in 1423.

After a fire on December 20, 1577, the structural damage was quickly restored and the gilded room was decorated by the greatest artists of the time, such as Veronese, Palma il Giovane, Francesco Bassano and Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto, whose gigantic Il Paradiso is one of the world's largest paintings. On the walls, historic battles and triumphs bombard the eyes with the glorification of Venice. Portraits of the first 76 Doges run in the frieze under the ceiling.

Great Council Chamber - "San Marco - The Basilica in the Third Millennium" Photo: Cat Bauer
Yesterday, April 13, 2019, nearly 600 years after the Great Council first met in the Sala del Maggior, a conference was held here to discuss the fate of an even more ancient Venetian structure: "San Marco - The Basilica in the Third Millennium." With the Tintoretto Il Paradiso as the backdrop, the setting for the conference shows the importance that Venice still places today on the condition of St. Mark's Basilica, which was first built in 832, rebuilt in 978 after it was burned in a rebellion, and whose current structure was consecrated on October 8, 1094. When you've got sacred architecture still standing for nearly a thousand years, the challenges that Venice will face far in the future, in the Basilica's third millennium, are not taken lightly.

Basilica of San Marco

According to John Julius Norwich:
"Nowhere in the Western world, not in Ravenna or Aachen or even in Rome itself, had so sumptuous a monument been raised to the Christian God..."
"La Basilica di San Marco di Venezia. Arte, storia, conservazione," a beautiful three-volume book published by Marsilio, was presented at the conference. It includes essays by more than 60 different experts written in a language accessible to a wide audience about "the splendor of a basilica suspended halfway between East and West which contains priceless treasures of faith and art." If the expert wrote their essay in Italian, as did most of the experts, Marsilio published it Italian. However, if the expert wrote in English, it was published in English, so you will find both languages in the books, in addition to exclusive photos.

With images that peek into the most secret corners of the Basilica, the book covers the history of thirty years of restorations, and is also a starting point for new ideas.  


Pala D'Oro & tomb of St. Mark on high altar of Basilica - Photo: Cat Bauer
The office of the Procurator, whose duties were to attend to St. Mark's Basilica, was established in the ninth century. These days the Procurators are still in charge of administering the Basilica under the authority of the Patriarch of Venice. Carlo Alberto Tesserin, the highest Procurator, was on the opening panel, as was Mons. Francesco Moraglia, the Patriarch of Venice, as well as representatives from the State -- Luigi Brugnaro, Venice's mayor, Gianluca Forcolin, the Vice-President of the Veneto Region, and Vincenzo Zoccano, the Undersecretary of State.

Climate change and the increasing frequency of acqua alta (high water) is one of the greatest challenges that the conservation of the Basilica faces. Another is mass tourism. In 2018, a whopping 5.5 million visitors entered the Basilica. Zoccano said, "Politics cannot divide such important issues. The government wants to be close to the Venetians and their city, which is a world heritage. We will not draw back from this responsibility." They also want to make it easier for private donations to receive greater tax deductions.

To me, one of the most fascinating speakers was the Byzantine scholar, Peter Schreiner, from the University of Cologne and Munich, who was on the round table held after the refreshing coffee break in the Sala dello Scrutinio. He spoke about the origins of the Basilica, and how Venice was influenced by Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. He said that it was important to remember that the Roman Empire in the East was Greek and pagan, not Latin, as in the West. I wrote an extensive post about Istanbul aka Constantinople in 2016, which gives more details about the long, complex history:

From Venice to Istanbul and Back



La Cappella Marciana - Photo: Cat Bauer
After an excellent Cocktail Dînatoire by Venetian stalwart Rosa Salva, again in the Sala dello Scrutinio, we went down to the courtyard and through the door that connects Palazzo Ducale to the Basilica of San Marco. Inside, we were treated to the heavenly voices of La Cappella Marciana conducted by Marco Gemmani, a vocal chorus directly descended from the more than five-century-old cappella of the Doge. It is considered the oldest professional music group that is still active. Here is a taste. Listen:



On the evening before Palm Sunday, the voices of the chorus filled the Basilica with the music of the angels. The Pala D'Oro beamed its golden wisdom. The mosaics on the walls and the domes and the apses whispered their ancient stories. The deep spirituality of the Republic of Venice washed over me, and lifted my spirits.

Afterwards, I said to a Venetian friend, "I feel... clean."

"Purified," she replied in English.

"Yes. Purified is the word."

For the sake of the planet, the Basilica of San Marco must prepare for its Third Millennium. 

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

1 comment:

  1. Power. Glory. Wealth. The sheer magnificence of the Great Council Chamber inside Palazzo Ducale is overwhelming. The immense hall was where the noblemen of the Great Council of the Venetian Republic convened, the 1,000 to 2,000 aristocrats who made up the most important political body of the Venice and who were the guardians of the laws of State. The Great Council met for the first time in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio in 1423.

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