Upstairs at San Marco

Glimpse the World as a Venetian

How do you get upstairs at the San Marco Basilica in Venice? And is the venture worthwhile? Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

How do you get upstairs at the San Marco Basilica in Venice? And is the venture worthwhile? Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

As a tourist checking off a list of must-sees in Venice, one might be tempted to just move with the masses through the main floor of the San Marco Basilica. The wait can be long, and occasionally watery, and snaking down the aisles toward the very worthwhile and jeweled Gold Altar Screen, or Pala d’Oro, might be sufficient. But take the opportunity, though, to ditch the crowd and climb some knee-crunching stairs up to the top of San Marco. The entrance is near the front of the basilica, just inside the front entrance and to the right. It is easy to miss as the crowd swarms toward that altar.

View of the piazzetta from the Loggia dei Cavalli in San Marco Basilica, Venice. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

View of the piazzetta from the Loggia dei Cavalli in San Marco Basilica, Venice. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

For a few extra euros, you can emerge on the balcony of the basilica, known as the loggia dei cavalli (or balcony of the horses) and delight in the view of the piazzetta and the columns and the water. Yes, you’ll feel like you’re going up to the attic, but don’t do what too many youthful visitors do: turn around and head back down those narrow stairs upon learning there will be an additional fee to enter the San Marco Museum. Stay. Pay. Out on that balcony, peer to the left and ponder church-state tension as you gaze down on the doge palace just next door.

Contemplate the church-state divide while viewing Doge Palace from the balcony at San Marco Basilica, Venice. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Contemplate the church-state divide while viewing Doge Palace from the balcony at San Marco Basilica, Venice. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Back inside the museo, still upstairs, you will be able to view the bronze horses that were made in the 4th century B.C. and managed to travel to Rome and Constantinople before venturing to Venice, then to Paris under Napoleon, then back to Venice. Once displayed on the loggia, they now live more safely indoors.

Bronze horses couldn't be kept away from San Marco Basilica in Venice, despite Napoleon's removal of them to Paris. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Bronze horses couldn’t be kept away from San Marco Basilica in Venice, despite Napoleon’s removal of them to Paris. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Indulge. The museo and the loggia, removed as they are from the throngs of tourists below, are less crowded and more peaceful. Experience the dark stillness up there as you imagine a monk would.

—Lori Tripoli

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