Mosaic floor – Basilica dei Santi Maria e Donato
Like many churches in Venice and the surrounding lagoons, Santi Maria e Donato looks seemingly restrained from the outside, concealed in an architectural pattern of plaster arches and red tiled roofs. Hidden inside, however, is a wealth of colour reflective of the lagoon waters themselves, a tumult of aquatic blues and greens in the stones of the mosaic floor. The floor is said to cover the relics of the church’s Saint, Donatus of Arezzo, together with the bones of the dragon he had slain. This intriguingly mythological story is only encouraged by the exotic design of the floor. Like so much of Venetian architectural style, it is Byzantine in influence, with small intricately placed tiles, and tiny triangles growing out of spheres like sun bursts. The dragons themselves are wonderfully fantastical, with bird-like heads complete with plumes and beak, wings that flourish to an organic fern-like curl, checker-board breasts, long snaking tails topped with a flame, and clawed webbed feet which, like the colours of the tiles, reflect the watery situation of the church. More accessible, and perhaps less overwhelming, than the vast mosaics of Venice’s San Marco, these aquatic dragons bewitch the observer as they step off the boat.