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San Marco: Raking view of the Pala d’Oro
Pala d'Oro (Italian, "Golden Pall" or "Golden Cloth") is the high altar retable of the Basilica di San Marco in Venice. It is universally recognized as one of the most refined and accomplished works of Byzantine craftsmanship, with both front and rear sides decorated. The altarpiece consists of two parts. The lower part, with enamels illustrating the story of Saint Mark, the doge's portrait, and the Pantocrator group, originated as an antependium commissioned by the doge Ordelafo Faliero from the court craftsmen of Constantinople in 1102. The image of Archangel Michael and the whole upper third are supposed to have been looted by the Crusaders in Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade of 1204.
Studies by the excavator, Forlati, indicate that S Marco was a centrally planned, Greek-cross building from the start. The present building was begun ca. 1063 under Doge Domenico Contarini (reg 1043-1071), who wished it to reflect the increased power and wealth of Venice. He preserved the earlier foundations and reused some of the outside walls and brickwork of the earlier building. It was consecrated in 1094. S Marco is built of brick with a marble facing. It is centrally planned, on a Greek cross, with an east-west axis of 76.5 m (including the later narthex), and has five hemispherical domes on pendentives, one at the centre and one on each of the four arms. The internal height of the central dome is 28.5 m. Venetian chroniclers state that Byzantine architects were summoned, again basing the church on the Holy Apostles (remodelled in the 9th century) at Constantinople. The origins of the architect have been much debated, but the building was probably a fusion of different regional ideas. The detached campanile (now 98.6 m high) seems to have been created from an ancient look-out tower, probably in the second half of the 12th century. The campanile collapsed in 1902 and was faithfully rebuilt in 1912.