The Pilastri Acritani (‘Pillars of Acre’) are two elaborately decorated pillars near the southern side of the Basilica of San Marco in Venice. The pillars are among the many spoils looted in the sack of Constantinople in 1204. They were also considered by John Ruskin to be “the two most noble pillars in Venice”.
As their name suggests, they were long regarded as trophies of the Venetian defeat of the Genoese in Acre. In 1960, excavations in Istanbul proved that they originated from the Church of Hagios Polyeuktos. Decorated with vine ornament, crosses, and Greek monograms, the pillars share features of other architectural remains found in the excavation which can now be found at the Istanbul Archaeological Museums. Most likely they were brought back to Venice after the sack of Constantinople in 1204. The area around the Church of Hagios Polyeuktos became of the Venetian sector of Constantinople, which was centered at the nearby Pantokrator Monastery.
Venice never rejected its Byzantine heritage and long remained proud of its role in the Fourth Crusade. So many sculptures, columns, and capitals from Constantinople now decorate the façades of San Marco that the church constitutes one of the best museums of Byzantine art. The southern side of San Marco has a particularly strong association with Byzantine art. This can particularly be seen in the treasury of San Marco along with the Tetrarchs on the corner of the treasury. In addition, there is a truncated porphyry column known as the Pietra del Bando on the southwest corner of San Marco, where Venetian officials once stood to issue proclamations. Above this are what John Ruskin called the “lily capitals”, which also originated from the Church of Hagios Polyeuktos.
Pietra del Bando (below) and “Lily Capitals” (above) on the southwest corner of San Marco
From Papadopoli Gardens in Venice
San Marco, Byzantium, and the Myths of Venice edited by Nelson and Maguire