Although Byzantium dominated Venice’s first politics and art, the oldest surviving buildings in the Lagoon, the Cathedral and Baptistry at Torcello (rebuilt in 1008) were inspired by forms closer at hand: the Early Christian basilicas of Ravenna, and their ancient Roman antecedents.
The basic plan consisted of a nave and side aisles, with the triumphal arch over the chancel: Murano’s San Donato (1125), San Nicolò dei Mendicoli and the Giudecca’s Sant’Eufemia were built along these lines. But other early churches were designed in the centralized Greek-cross style, such as the 11th-century Santa Fosca, built next to Torcello Cathedral, and the original of Santa Maria Formosa.
The most important example, however, was the first: the Basilica of San Marco, built in the 830s, a copy of Constantinople’s five-domed church of the Apostles – a form kept through all subsequent rebuildings.
Image by Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls