Beneath Venice’s heart: unearthing the lost church of San Geminiano

Under Piazza San Marco, the walls of what could be one of the oldest churches in Venice (traces of which had been lost) were found, together with a tomb dating back to the Early Middle Ages

In recent excavations at Venice’s iconic Piazza San Marco, archaeologists have unveiled astonishing discoveries, including a tomb from the Early Middle Ages and structures that could be part of one of the city’s oldest places of worship, the Church of San Geminiano.

The project, initially aimed at repairing damage to the square’s pavement caused by frequent flooding, has unearthed ancient walls and floors dating back to before the year 1000. This revelation suggests a history predating the current appearance of Piazza San Marco.

Sara Bini, the excavation’s project manager, has indicated that these findings might be linked to the Church of San Geminiano, an ancient church whose precise location had been lost over the centuries. This hypothesis is strengthened by 19th-century archival records that pinpoint the church exactly at the site of the current excavations. Among the finds is a communal burial site containing the remains of at least four individuals from the 7th-8th centuries, including a child and a woman, which further supports the notion that the area was once sacred ground.

The practice of burying the dead alongside or within religious buildings was common in antiquity, often with multiple individuals sharing the same tomb. Given that historical sources mention only the Church of San Geminiano in this vicinity, and cemeteries were typically established near places of worship, it is highly likely that the excavated structures and floors belong to the church itself.

San Geminiano, also known as the Church of the Doges, was among Venice’s oldest and most revered churches, cherished by the Republic’s early Doges. If these theories are confirmed, the remains could represent the original core of the church, prior to its various reconstructions and relocations throughout the centuries.

Constructed in the 12th century, the church existed well before the Basilica of San Marco was built and the square took its current form, surrounded by the Procuratie. Its original location in the center of Piazza San Marco had not been identified until these archaeological breakthroughs.

Thanks to meticulous post-excavation analysis, archival research, and modern digital reconstruction techniques, a clearer understanding of not only the evolution of this famed square but also the early centuries of Venice itself is now within reach.

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