This is the place to truly sense the grandeur and power of Venice. Yes, churches and cathedrals command much of the Western European landscape from the beginning of the last millennium, with their confident statement of dominion over sandal and soul, but it's here in Venice, with all this added secular bling, that statements of power are really made.
Before becoming Doge of Venice in 1343, Andrea Dandolo had been the youngest ever Procurator of the St. Mark's Basilica.The manner in which he enhanced the interior of the church, including the gold-encrusted Baptistry, could arguably be seen as the foundation of his campaign for higher office. He seems to have developed a taste for renovation and interior design, a suspicion further strengthened by his unwillingness, as 54th Doge, to reduce the budget for the work transforming his next residence in the building next door.
The Piazza, as it runs west to east towards the Basilica, is a monumental space in its own right. Even (to my eye) the slightly ugly and oversized Campinale, surrounded by its perennial anklet of visitors determined to walk to its summit, does little to take away the sense of civic confidence that permeates the place.
The four horses sitting above the entrance to the Basilica, while only replicas of those that stood at ground level at the time of Lucia and Malin's visit, speak to a chain of history from Rome to Constantinople to Venice, to Napoleonic France and then back again (look it up - their history is fascinating in their own right - it's as though they've galloped through both countries and the sands of time). As an aside, the original sculptures were displayed for centuries in the Roman Hippodrome in Constantinople, a place known to Malin from his visits to the city, made as part of his trading voyages the the East.
We timed our visit inside the Basilica fairly well, with the queues stretched a mere 30 minutes to the door. I remain relieved at evading censure for taking the photographs below - as you can see, the guard on the left of the entrance was in no mind to smile kindly on any form of disobedience. I believe the man he accuses in the photo below was found floating face down in the Canal, still clutching his Yankee's cap, removed when requested but with a slightly (and fatally) defiantly-raised brow. I'm convinced that the biggest threat to our world today remains right wing secular and religious fundamentalism, and irked museum attendants.
Frustratingly, the Baptistery was closed to visitors, so I failed to stand in front of the image of Salome and the trophy head of Mr. John Baptist, esq. (I may seem a little flippant - the truth is, I really wanted to sit where our two protagonists finally open their hearts to each other).
Still, all this said, the building continues to possess the power to amaze.