St. Mark’s Campanile – The Famous Belltower of Venice

by Jill Kammer

You haven’t truly seen Venice until you see the bell tower (the Campanile) of the Basilica di San Marco and St Mark’s Square. This is the structure around which the rest of Venice revolves. It is also considered the symbol of the soul of Venice.

The Archangel Gabriel looks down on the city from 323 feet high in the sky (nearly 100 meters), although he is, technically, an incredibly fancy weathervane. He stands on a pyramid-shaped spire on the belfry – home to Venice’s five bells – which leads down the earth-toned brick tower to rest on a 39 square foot base.

What exists today is actually a replica of a replica. The second St. Mark’s Campanile (the first to take on its familiar shape) collapsed for no known reason in 1902 after 500 years of faithful service and was rebuilt in 1912.

The current incarnation of St Mark’s Campanile is based on the second tower, which sports the shape and features that made it world-renowned. It was this second tower that Venetians fell in love with and began to identify with. Non-Venetian fans of St Mark’s Campanile include Galileo and Goethe (who wasn’t even Italian).

Venice has been a magnet for conquerors over the centuries. The bell-tower became drafted to help in the duty to not only fight for Venetians’ souls, but their lives as well. St Mark’s Campanile has served as bell home, watchtower and lighthouse. With its commanding view, hostile forces to Venice could be seen and with the bells ringing, immediately warn the locals of their arrival.

Each of the five bells has different jobs. The largest is to announce the beginning and ending of a usual work day. A second acts like a clock bell, gonging the hour. One is reserved to call the Venetian Senators to the Doge’s Palace. Another is for when prisoners are executed.

Although not as gaudy as some other Venetian structures, the bell tower is still far from plain. The brick takes on skin tones. At the top, golf leaf glints in the sun. No bats are in this belfry, but lions can be seen walking around it. There is also a woman in bas relief represented who is a symbol of Venice herself.

This latest incarnation of St. Mark’s Campanile includes an elevator in order to get to the top. The attic is large enough to walk around in and get magnificent views of the city. Inside the belfry is beautiful marble that you can’t see from the ground.

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