The south facade

The South Facade | Further Information

The south facade, which overlooks the sea, is rich in triumphal accents:

– the pillars said to come from Acre but actually from Constantinople;
– the porphyry group of the Tetrarchs;
– the Pietra del Bando, a stone on which, according to ancient chronicles, the Serenissima ordered that the heads of traitors to the Republic be displayed for three days and nights; and the trophies on the south wall of the Treasury.

All this was aimed at dazzling, with the power and splendour of Venice, those who arrived by sea, both foreigners and Venetians returning from afar. But this fa�ade underwent far more extensive transformation than the other two in the 14th century, when a part of the atrium was turned into a baptistery, and at the beginning of the 16th century when the south atrium with the sea gate was transformed into a sepulchral chapel for cardinal Giovanni Battista Zeno (Zen Chapel). The sea gate, of which there are no extant illustrations, permitted the Venetians direct access to the church from the sea by way of the south head of the atrium since the perimeter of the present day Ducal Palace was surrounded by lagoon waters by means of a wide canal.
The remaining elements of the old portal are two lions and four prophets, later placed in the Zen Chapel, and two gryphons.
The late 13th century portal arch is edged with foliage containing the heads (in relief) of ten prophets and two bishop saints. The summit of the arch is crowned by the figure of Christ Pantocrator. This curious mixing of prophets and saints is practically impossible to find elsewhere and may be considered specifically Venetian inasmuch as veneration of the prophets was, in Venice, on a par with veneration of the Church saints. Today however it is difficult to interpret the original message of the arch since only four names can be identified with certainty (Moses, Simeon, Habakkuk and Daniel).

The Treasury complex is a decorative unit in itself. There are numerous Byzantine reliefs on its south fa�ade whose function is purely ornamental and without any iconographic meaning. The skirting of this fa�ade is a later 14th century addition, with a zoophoric relief and the inscription ‘veneziana’ which is an absolute linguistic rarity.