After waking up to a bright, clear, cloudless Venetian morning sunrise pouring through our apartment’s tall, breezy, shuttered windows, I left Mandy to sleep a little longer and set out on my own to find an authentic Italian bakery. I slowly made my way through the slender – bright with early morning sunlight “streets” – they were more often just narrow paved footpaths snug between old buildings – than streets. The true streets of Venice are for boat traffic – the hundreds of canals; large and small, on down to downright tiny. There are no automobiles on the Venetian islands, at all, which makes for more pleasant, picturesque and safer walking for pedestrians. I looked up “bakeries” on Google Maps on my iPhone, and luckily for me, there was a bakery on the other side of the tiny Rio San Toma canal from the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, across the pathway from our apartment – the marvelous Pasticceria Tonolo! It turns out it was only a 3-minute walk away from the front door of our Ca’ Badoer deiBarbacani‘s palazzetto apartment building.
Here is a satellite shot from Google Maps of the San Polo district, Venice’s smallest sestiere (district), which borders the Canale Grande and the sestiere of Dorsoduro and Santa Croce. It is well-known for its famous seafood, fruit and vegetable market, (the Rialto Market) in the mornings, and its lively bar scene in the evenings. The Pasticceria Tonolo was a mere stone’s throw away from us from the apartment building’s front door:
At the wonderful Pasticceria-Tonolo, I loaded up with a sackful of baked treats for Mandy and I to enjoy back in the sunlight-bathed apartment. I bought several of the best-looking kinds of pastries and even a huge meringue for us to share! After a lingering strong Italian coffee and pastry breakfast, we headed back through the San Toma district’s crowded, narrow passageways to the huge Ponte di Rialto bridge over the Canalé Grandé:
We had an appointed time for our tour of the remarkable St. Mark’s Basilica at 10 a.m. First, we learned that if we left our backpacks in the neighboring baroque Ateno San Barso church, then we would be given, in exchange for our backpack’s safe storage for one hour, a free one-hour voucher to tour the ancient basilica on our own. On our personal tour, we wondered, mouths-wide-open, at the splendid architecture of the ancient interior, based on a Greek-Cross-shaped plan (from the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople – present-day Istanbul, Turkey – home base to the Eastern-Orthodox branch of Catholicism.)
“The first St. Mark’s Basilica was built as a holy sepulcher on this spot in the 9th century to house very sacred relics—relics that had been stolen! In 828, merchants from Venice stole the body of St. Mark the Evangelist, one of the four Apostles, from Alexandria, Egypt. According to the legend, they snuck them past the (Muslim) guards by hiding them under layers of pork in barrels! While at sea, a storm almost drowned the graverobbers and their precious cargo – it’s said that St. Mark himself appeared to the captain and told him to lower the sails. The ship was saved, and the merchants said they owed their safety to the miracle. Thus, St. Mark became the patron saint of the Venetian Empire. The entire story is pictured on the 13th-century mosaic above the left door as you enter the basilica.” – courtesy, a St. Mark’s Basilica website.
Work on the present-day basilica, begun after the original, 9th-century basilica, built to house the kidnapped body of St. Mark the Evangelist, burned to the ground during a citizen-led rebellion in 828 A.D. The replacement basilica burned to the ground again in 976 A.D. The present-day basilica was rebuilt on the site of the original, burned basilicas, beginning in 1063 A.D., with consecration of the “new” basilica in 1093 A.D., according to Wikipedia’s Basilica di San Marco – besting Paris’ magnificent medieval French Gothic Notré Dame de Paris cathedral by nearly 200 years! We greatly-admired the acres of stunning mosaics covering the Greek-Cross plan floor of the giant basilica:
Since this church was built in the 11th-century A.D., there are as of yet no soaring naves, as found in later cathedrals, such as Notré Dame-de Paris-cathedral, which was begun in 1163, one-hundred years after the start of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. During the ensuing 200 years, master architect masons improved upon earlier, Romanesque-style, heavy masonry basilicas. St. Mark’s Basilica, though, being constructed before this revolutionary period in cathedral architecture, is still rather heavy and dark, although there are some stained glass windows at the base of the 5 massive gilded domes, worked in amongst the heavy walls supporting the weighty domes, “supported by over 500 huge columns with giant capitals on the ground level – just another example of the sheer size, and amount of amazing stuff, in St. Mark’s, is the number of columns, and most are Byzantine, dating between the 6th and 11th centuries. Some classical, 3rd-century capitals are mixed in, too!” Courtesy, a Basilica di San Marco website.
The archdeacon of Paris, one Etienne de Garlande, “commissioned major works for its (the Notré Dame’s) embellishment, including the Saint Anne portal , adorned with column statues. Under the reign of Louis VI, Thibaud II, Bishop of Paris from 1144 to 1158, who was interested in new architectural trends………the revolutionary designs by master mason / architects for the Notré Dame cathedral were developed).
At the same time, Father Suger presided over the work of the new Saint-Denis basilica in the town of Saint-Denis, a a town north of medieval Paris – now a northern suburb of modern Paris, designed as a colored-glass shrine. The idea to “bring (in) light” into the church is the “key concept.” New architectural techniques impressed contemporaries, notably through the art of stained glass.
From the Wikipedia website: “GETTING TO KNOW THE CATHEDRAL BASILICA OF SAINT-DENIS:
The last home of the kings and queens of France. Built on the tomb of Saint Denis, (the) missionary bishop who died around 250, the royal abbey of Saint-Denis received from the death of King Dagobert in 639…until the 19th century, the burials of 43 kings, 32 queens and 10 servants of the monarchy. In 1966, the basilica was elevated to the rank of cathedral. A sculpture museum . With more than 70 medieval recumbent figures and monumental Renaissance tombs, the basilica contains within it the most important collection of funerary sculpture from the 12th to the 16th century. The birth of Gothic art. Designed by Abbot Suger, advisor to kings, from 1135 to 1144, completed in the 13th century under the reign of Saint Louis, a major work of Gothic art, the church inaugurates the central square of light, symbol of the divine, in religious architecture.” Courtesy, a history of the Notré Dame cathedral website, and the Saint-Denis cathedral Wikipedia website:
“There are more than 85,000 square feet (or 8,000 square meters) of mosaic in St. Mark’s Basilica… or enough mosaic to cover over 1.5 American football fields! The mosaics were done over 8 centuries, mostly in gold, and the result is astonishing. Enter the basilica at different times of day to see how the light makes the colors, and scenes, look different.” from the website St. Mark’s Basilica, outlining 6 stunning facts about the golden basilica’s history and architecture.
From a St. Mark’s Basilica website: “Forget the glittering gems at the Tower of London: The Royal Family has nothing on St. Mark’s Basilica! “Marble banisters with Sansovino’s bronze statues of the Evangelists and Paliari‘s of the Four Doctors mark the access to the high altar, which contains St Mark’s relics. Above the high altar is a canopy (“ciborium”) on columns decorated with fine reliefs. The altarpiece is the famous Pala d’Oro, a masterpiece of Byzantine craftsmanship, originally designed for an antependium. This masterpiece incorporates 1,300 pearls, 300 sapphires, 300 emeralds, and 400 garnets and amethysts, plus rubies and topazes. They are all original and highly polished, unfaceted gems. The original altar frontal is now in the treasury.”
Adorning the imposing western (main) façade on the front of Basilica di San Marco, as seen from the main body of the sprawling Piazza San Marco, are the (replicas of) Horses of Saint Mark-Lysippos – from a Basilica di San Marco website: “The Horses of Saint Mark were installed on the balcony above the portal of the basilica in about 1254. They date to Classical Antiquity, though their date remains a matter of debate, and presumably were originally the team pulling a quadriga chariot, probably containing an emperor. By some accounts they once adorned the Arch of Trajan in Rome.”
After retrieving our backpacks from the neighboring baroque Ateno San Barso church, where one can take in nightly performances in the soaring church space a selection of Antonio Vivaldi’s classics, such as The Four Seasons, we crossed the sprawling Piazza di San Marco to a world-famous institution – Caffè Florian – which has been a Venetian social and intellectual hub since its opening day, way back in 1720. It is now the oldest café in all Europe:
I quickly set up shop on the outside of the outdoor dining terrace of Caffè Florian – I got out the accordian-style watercolor sketchbook I bought earlier in Paris at the Magasin Sennelier art supply store in order to sketch in a pencil-only perspectival view of the looming Campinilé di San Marco, the Basilica di San Marco and the broad urban space that was Venice’s central gathering space – Piazza di San Marco. I had trouble getting the perspective right, as it had been so long since I’d attempted anything so complicated in one of my sketchbooks. I made many erasures and, finally, after an hour, I had a satisfactory sketch of the view from our courtside table – with the full intention to later fill in the sketch with watercolor!
We were served a delicious (but overpriced) lunch of Italian-style vegetarian quiche, vegetables served with chips, flavored fizzy Italian “Spritzi” drinks, Caffè Florian‘s famous “blooming tea,” strong Italian coffee and finally a delicious assortment of biscotti for a mouth-watering dessert. As I sketched and we ate, we enjoyed the musicians who entertained the diners with jazz and classical standards from the outdoor stage at bustling Caffè Florian. I was later, on our first taxi ride from the Stazzioné Termini train station in Rome, to leave my backpack containing my precious sketchbook, watercolor set, colored pencils, iPad and newish Sony mirrorless digital camera full of fantastic shots of our adventure so far, in the back of the taxi. The backpack and contents were never recovered – but our trip insurance eventually (mostly) paid up, once I had a “police report” signed by the Rome police to submit! Very sad to lose everything, but if that would be the worst thing to happen during our 5-week adventure in Europe, then it wasn’t a bad vacation at all!!