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Interior A lifetime would hardly suffice to see everything contained in this cave of wonders.

The lambent interior exudes splendour and mystery, even when bursting with tourists.

So when two Venetian merchants swiped the body of St Mark (though some historians believe they got Alexander the Great's remains by mistake, a theme developed by Steve Berry in his 2007 novel The Venetian Betrayal) from Alexandria in 828, concealed from prying Muslim eyes under a protective layer of pork, they were going for the very best - an Evangelist, and an entire body at that.

Fortunately, there was a legend (or one was quickly cooked up) that the saint had once been caught in the lagoon in a storm, and so it was fitting that this should be his final resting place.

The only original mosaic (c1260) is the one over the northernmost door, The Translation of the Body of St Mark to the Basilica, which is the earliest known representation of the church.

In the apse, Christ Pantocrator is a 16th-century reproduction of a Byzantine original.

The influence of Islamic art comes through in the few remaining grilles that cover the wall niches where early doges were buried.

Above, a series of 13th-century mosaics in the Byzantine style shows Old Testament scenes.

However, popular lore has it that they are four Saracens turned to stone after an attempt to burgle the Treasury.

The two free-standing pillars in front of the Baptistry door, with Syrian carvings from the fifth century, come from Acre, as does the stumpy porphyry column on the corner, known as the Pietra del Bando, where official decrees were read.

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