It was like entering a speakeasy – only if the secret meeting point was a concealment inside a world’s most iconic building.
We did step away from the busiest open space in holiday-drunk Venice, subterfuge-footed as our guide led us to the side door; there, whispers were exchanged, secret handshake too, until there were enough persuasions to gain our tour group access to Saint Mark’s Basilica after opening hours.
The frescoed caverns lacked the echoes of impatient whispers that would’ve accompanied coiling lines of day-time visitors; haunting murmurs, transpiring from millennium-old artefacts and a guide’s verbal narrative, filled the void as well as the crackling of lone camera shutters.
Through the inner porch, rows of empty seats and unfrequented stone columns gazed up to the golden domes overhead, as saintly figures flanking the cruciform ceiling in-turn looked down from their biblical depictions, as though judging us mortals below.
In its full tranquility, it was hallowing to reverse-imagine the basilica in its full modern capacity; it was more surreal yet to more easily envisage Saint Mark’s – and its worshippers – throughout its erected ages and history.
Behind the lens
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It’s any photographer or photography enthusiast’s definition elysium to find one of the most frequented sites in the world relieved of its crowds, where one can plonk a tripod in the middle of the aisle and do long exposures without interruption or people walking into frame.
They may have been rushed – shame the basilica wasn’t going to stay open for us all night – but bursts of six- to eight-second shutter snaps, coupled with the largest depth of field available, did the trick in capturing the cathedral in its golden glory.
My after-hours visit to Saint Mark’s Basilica was made possible thanks to Walks of Italy, who offers exclusive access to the basilica as part of their range of Venice private tours.