These photos are from Basilica di San Marco – I love the peacock!
The Basilica’s floors are truly magnificent even though parts of them are covered up to protect them from tromping tourists like me. The oldest sections are the Byzantine designs with animals, flowers, birds, and mythological creatures while the amazingly complex geometric designs came later. The best view is upstairs in the Museo where you can look down from the balcony facing the high altar.
Equally amazing are the floors in Santa Maria e Donato out on Murano. Those floors are all Byzantine, dating back to the 12th century, and are just so gorgeous. These two churches are two of the oldest in Venice, and the floors in both are quite warped and rolling. A few historians have claimed that the Venetians built them that way on purpose, in order to represent the undulating waves of the ocean, but I don’t really buy it. I think that buildings built on mud are going to subside and the floors will get warped, plus almost every building in Venice is a little wonky.
A few other church floors come to mind….San Salvador has very elegant floors in red, white, and black abstract designs – parts of them remind me of Escher. The Gesuiti floors, like the walls, are designed to resemble fabric, and the sections around the high altar look like an intricate oriental carpet.
There’s a large glossy coffee table book called “Decorative Floors of Venice” or something like that. I looked at it for a long time in a bookstore in Venice but at that point, I’d already bought so many books to haul home that I didn’t buy it. Maybe next time.
And one more story. In May 2004 I was in Venice when a major acqua alta occurred, caused by a combination of Full Moon, high tide, and a torrential thunderstorm. It was all very dramatic with thunder and lightning early in the morning and then the sirens went off. I went to the Basilica (and had to walk on those high-rise sidewalks to get there) and the sidewalks were even set up inside the church. I remember looking down and seeing those gorgeous mosaic floors underneath about a foot of water and thinking that Venice is doomed. It was eerie. Then I went upstairs to the balcony outside – the Piazza was a lake and I couldn’t see one speck of dry land anywhere. It felt like the Basilica was a boat. There were a handful of us up on the loggia and everyone looked rather stunned by it all. I’ll never forget the way those floors looked underwater. I guess they just don’t make sump pumps big enough to handle the ocean.