The Horses of St Mark’s Basilica

Apologies for being a day late with the Mediterranean Miscellany but I was on holiday – in the Mediterranean (of course).

So today: Venice, a fantastic city with loads of history, since I just came back from there.

If you ever go to Venice, don’t begrudge the 5-euro entry fee to the loggia of San Marco (the church itself is free). From this loggia the Doge and Petrarch watched the tournaments held in celebration after Venice had successfully quelled a rebellion, the so-called Revolt of St Titus, in Crete in 1364. And the view over St Mark’s Square, the Doge’s Palace and the seafront is indeed delightful but the most memorable thing up there is…


The replica horses on the loggia of St Mark's Basilica
The replica horses on the loggia of St Mark’s

…the four, practically life-size horses up on the loggia of St Mark’s which, in the words of Petrarch, seem “to be neighing and pawing the ground as if alive”.

The horses originally stood on the Hippodrome of Constantinople (Byzantium) and were looted by the Venetians when they sacked the city during the infamous Fourth Crusade in 1204. In turn, they were then looted from the Venetians six hundred years later by Napoleon but after his final defeat they were returned onto the loggia of St Mark’s – where they stood until the late 1970s when they were removed for renovation and were replaced by replicas. They are now inside the St Mark’s, protected from the elements – and if you want to see them, you have to pay that entry fee to the loggia.

The original horses from the Hippodrome of Constantinople
The original horses from the Hippodrome of Constantinople

When the Venetians took the horses from Constantinople, tradition attributed them to be the work of the famous Greek sculptor Lysippos (fourth century B.C.). Carbon dating since modified that date to the second century A.D. and they are now considered to be of Roman, rather than Greek workmanship.

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