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Venice

Campanile of St Marks
 




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Summary

The Campanile or Bell Tower of St Marks, Venice is located in St Mark’s Square in front of St Mark’s Basilica and is the tallest building in Venice standing at 99 metres high. The Tower dates back to the 9th century when it was a watch tower and a lighthouse, although it has had its present form since 1514. The present tower is a replica and dates back to the beginning of the 20th century following it being rebuilt after the collapse of the previous one in 1902.


The Campanile or Bell Tower of St Marks is located in Saint Mark’s Square in front of St Mark’s Basilica and is the tallest building in Venice standing at 99 metres high. 

The tower that we see today is a replica of the one which collapsed on 14th July 1902.  The original one was first built in the 12th century on the site of what was probably a watchtower dating back to the 9th century.  The tower took its current design in the early 16th century being completed between 1511 and 1514. It was at this time that a belfry was added, and its spire was faced in copper and topped with a gold coloured statue of the Archangel Gabriel and positioned on a rotating platform which enabled it to function as a weathervane. The statue is 3 metres high and its wings make it rotate when caught by the wind. For the Venetians, when the angel is facing the Basilica, it is a sign that there will be high water.

Constructed of brick and square in plan, the walls  incorporate lesenes.  Lesenes being vertical strips resembling a pilaster, but without a base or capital; these are used to subdivide wall surfaces into framed panels. They extend for 12 metres wide and 49.5 metres high. Above this is an arched belfry containing five bells, each of which is rung for a significant event. Of the five bells, only the largest is an original. The others were destroyed when the tower collapsed during an earthquake in 1902. 

The belfry is topped by a cube, alternate faces of which show the Lion of St. Mark and the female representation of Venice. Above this is a large dado with the pyramidal spire topped by the weathervane in the form of the angel. 

The tower is the first sight of Venice for those arriving by sea and it was once a lighthouse for shipping. During its existence it has been struck several times by lightning and has suffered from the affects of earthquakes.  It was severely damaged by lightening in 1388, destroyed by fire in 1417 and seriously damaged by a fire in 1489 that destroyed the wooden spire.

It was damaged in 1548 and 1565 and again in 1658. A lightning strike on 13 April 1745, caused a fire resulting in some of the masonry to crack, and several people being killed by falling stonework. The campanile was damaged by lightning again in 1761 and 1762 and in 1776, it was fitted with a lightning rod. 

Following its collapse in 1902 it was decided to produce an exact copy of the building, although for greater safety and stability, and in order to meet the building requirements of the day new techniques were used. This included some internal reinforcement to prevent future collapse, and it was at this time that an elevator was installed. The first stone was laid on 25th April 1903 and construction took nine years. The building was inaugurated on St. Mark’s day, 25 April 1912. 

Following its collapse certain parts of the tower were used for the rebuild while others were replaced.  The copper statue of the Archangel Gabriel that topped the tower was reconstructed with the original fragments copying the statue of the angel that was installed in 1820 to replace the previous one.

Located against the base of the tower is a small loggia or balcony.  This is decorated with marbles and bronzes and was built between 1537 and 1549. It was designed as a meeting place but today is the entrance for those wishing to ascend the tower.  This too was rebuilt following the collapse of the building in 1902.




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Copyright - All  Photographs copyright Ron Gatepain

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