With a profusion of domes and over 8000 sq metres of luminous mosaics, Venice’s cathedral is an unforgettable sight. It was founded in the 9th century to house the corpse of St Mark after wily Venetian merchants smuggled it out of Egypt in a barrel of pork fat. When the original burnt down in 932 Venice rebuilt the basilica in its own cosmopolitan image, with Byzantine domes, a Greek cross layout and walls clad in marbles from Syria, Egypt and Palestine. Unbelievably this incredibly sumptuous church was the Doge’s private chapel. It only officially became Venice’s cathedral in 1807 following the demise of the republic, replacing the considerably less grand Basilica di San Pietro in Castello. The front of St Mark’s ripples and crests like a wave, its five niched portals capped with shimmering mosaics and frothy stonework arches. It’s especially resplendent just before sunset, when the sun’s dying rays set the golden mosaics ablaze. The oldest mosaic on the facade, dating from 1270, is in the lunette above the far-left portal, depicting St Mark’s stolen body arriving at the basilica. The theme is echoed in three of the other lunettes, including the 1660 mosaics above the second portal from the right, showing turbaned officials recoiling from the hamper of pork fat containing the sainted corpse. Grand entrances are made through the central portal, under an ornate triple arch featuring Egyptian purple porphyry columns and intricate 13th- to 14th-century stone reliefs. There’s no charge to enter the church and wander around the roped-off central circuit, although you’ll need to dress modestly (ie knees and shoulders covered) and leave large bags around the corner at the Ateneo San Basso Left Luggage Office. Those simply wishing to pray or attend Mass can enter from the Porta dei Fiori, on the north side of the church.