Whether you are coming from the bridge over Murano’s Grand Canal, and so first see the impressive exterior of the apse with its warm contrasting hues of Istrian stone and brick, or from a narrow interior lane, and so first see the austere early-Christian, Ravenna-style facade, the basilica of Santi Maria e Donato never fails to amaze.
And this feeling of wonder of course continues once inside. Walking with respectful reverence across the richly coloured mosaic floor, made of marble tesserae and glass paste and teeming with early-Christian decorations, much like the floor of St Mark’s Basilica, depicting delightful foliate motifs like racemes and flowers as well as animals, including peacocks and eagles, you can’t help but be entranced by the vast glass mosaic decorating the apse conch, dating to the 12th century. The mosaic presents an orant Madonna against a gold ground that immediately calls to mind the slightly earlier, Byzantine one in the church of Santa Maria Assunta on Torcello.
I would also like to draw your attention to two ‘new’ points of interest inside the basilica: a life-size glass Christ on the Cross, made ‘freehand’ by the master glass blower Ermanno Nason (1928–2013), and a unique chandelier, also glass (we are, of course, on Murano!), made sometime around the 1970s by Luciano Vistosi (1931–2010), whose workshop was just steps from the basilica.
Back outside the cathedral, be sure to note the Romanesque beauty of the bell tower, divided into three orders with the belfry at the top, and the adjacent Monument to the Fallen, made more recently (in 1927) by Napoleone Martinuzzi (1892–1977), who started out his career as an architect but then became famous for his projects devoted to Murano production.