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St. Mark’s Bell Tower | Venice’s ‘Master of the House’

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Why visit St. Mark’s Campanile Tower?

What is a campanile? 

A campanile is a bell tower typically found adjacent to a church, and often associated with Italian architecture. The earliest examples, believed to have been constructed between the 6th and 10th centuries, were simple cylindrical structures featuring a handful of small, rounded openings clustered near the top. Most campaniles are characterized by their standalone presence, distinct from the main church building. An iconic illustration is the St. Mark’s Campanile tower, serving as the bell tower for St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, standing independently in the square, positioned near the front facade of the basilica.

The 5 bells of St. Mark’s Bell Tower

When St. Mark's Church became a cathedral in 1807, new, larger bells were needed. They melted down the old ones and 6,000 bells from closed churches. The new bells were too heavy and never used, and the Marangona was the only surviving bell when the tower collapsed in 1902.

1. The Marangona

The Marangona, also dubbed the Carpentiera or Campanon (major), is a very important bell. It served multiple purposes: it signaled the start of Great Council sessions and marked important times throughout the day. At sunset, it rang 15 series of 16 strokes, signifying the end of the workday for the Arsenal, heavy trades, and government offices. Midnight was marked by 16 series of 18 strokes from the Marangona. The bell also signaled the start of the workday for laborers, which varied with daylight hours. Named after the marangoni (carpenters) of the Arsenal, the Marangona's ringing was followed by a half hour of silence.

2. The Nona

Known as both Nona and Mezzana, this particular bell chimes at midday and once signaled the completion of the round to deliver letters to Rialto. The Nona bell in Venice got its name from the Ninth Hour (Nones), which was a traditional afternoon prayer time in liturgy. It rang 16 series of 18 strokes at midday, signaling the start of the work break. After the Nona stopped ringing, a half-hour of silence followed. Its distinctive toll at midday not only signaled the start of the work break but also served as a rhythmic reminder of daily routines in Venice.

3. The Trottiera

The Trottiera, also known as the Quarantìa, served as a summons bell, calling nobles to prepare for Great Council assemblies, reminding them to mount their horses despite the city's riding restrictions. Damaged over time, the bell underwent multiple recastings, completed in 1731. Initially producing unsatisfactory sound, it required two more recastings to harmonize with older bells. The Trottiera rang for 30 minutes following the Nona, earning the nickname "Dietro Nona." Its cessation signaled Venice's laborers to resume their work.

4. The Pregadi

Pregadio or Meza Terza announced Senate meetings, whose members were known as Pregadi. The Meza-terza bell in Venice played a crucial role in signaling key moments throughout the day and night. At dawn, it rang 16 series of 18 strokes, marking the beginning of daylight. Following the Marangona's cessation, it continued to chime for thirty minutes. Additionally, an hour after sunset, the Meza-terza rang for 12 minutes, signaling the assembly of the night watch in Saint Mark's Square. Furthermore, it served as an execution bell, tolling after capital punishments were carried out.

5. The Renghiera

Also known as Maleficio, this is a bell of somber significance. In its youth, it was tolled to announce the execution by ringing for 30 minutes on behalf of the city's magistrates. If that isn’t morbid, then what is? This bell, initially located in the Doge's Palace and later moved to the tower in 1569, played a crucial role in the city's judicial proceedings and the solemnity of capital punishments. Its various names reflect different aspects of its role: "Renghiera" from court proceedings, "Maleficio" emphasizing the criminal act, and "Preghiera" invoking prayers for the condemned. Its ringing marked significant moments in Venice's legal history, ensuring the solemnity and gravity of public executions were duly observed.

History of the Campanile

The Bell Tower was originally built in the 12th century and has been through many rounds of rebuilding. In the early 16th century, it was rebuilt with a new belfry and a copper-clad spire featuring a rotating platform topped by the statue of Archangel Gabriel as a weathervane. In 1609, Galileo Galilei uses the San Marco bell tower for telescope demonstration. From its initial construction in 888, the tower faced setbacks like earthquakes and fires. Over the centuries, it endured la lot, but always rose anew with improved design.

Construction

The Bell Tower began on old Roman foundations in the 9th century and was rebuilt many times from the 12th to the 14th centuries. It got its final look after lots of fixing up from 1511 to 1514. Constructed on the site of a watchtower, it was first used for maritime purposes. In 1513, a gold angel crowned its peak, marking a moment of triumph and celebration. In 1962, an elevator is added within the inner shaft.

Collapse

On July 14, 1902, the Saint Mark's Bell Tower collapsed. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but workers found the custodian's cat among the rubble. They also discovered a damaged bronze statue of Mercury by Jacopo Sansovino and a fragment of a colorful Murano Glass chalice from around 1500. Despite the tragedy, Venice swiftly rallied, allocating funds for reconstruction.

Renovation and alteration

The renovation of St. Mark's Bell Tower began in 1903, with the new tower completed in 1912. While maintaining its original appearance, it was reinforced with modern construction techniques for safety. Key features, like new Istria stone lions and a recreated copper statue of Archangel Gabriel, honored its historical design while ensuring structural integrity.

St. Mark’s Bell Tower architecture

The San Marco tower follows Venetian-Byzantine style. Originally constructed in the 9th century and rebuilt in the 16th century after a collapse, the tower stands tall at over 98.6 meters. Its facade features intricate marble details and decorative motifs reflecting Venice’s rich history. A few of the initial bricks even originated from the late Roman Empire and were rescued from ruins on the mainland. At the top of the bell tower, you'll find symbols important to Venetian history like the image of Venice as Justice and the Lion of Saint Mark, which is a reference to the patron saint of the city. And of course, don't miss the weathervane shaped like the archangel Gabriel!

Climbing the Bell Tower

To reach the top of the bell tower, you have two options: take the elevator or climb 323 steps. Your choice depends on what you enjoy and need! Climbing the stairs is a journey through history and a physical challenge. It's rewarding to reach the summit and see the amazing views. This is great if you like challenges and love learning about the tower's past.

If you prefer convenience and speed or have mobility issues, the elevator is perfect. It's easier on your energy and time, especially if you have trouble with stairs. You'll still get to enjoy the beautiful views from the top and the unique experience of being above the bustling piazza!

Frequently asked questions about St. Mark’s Bell Tower

Is St. Mark's Campanile the tallest building in Venice?

Yes, St. Mark's Campanile (Campanile di San Marco) is the tallest building in Venice. It stands at a height of about 98.6 meters (323 feet) including the angel and the spire on top.

What is the nickname for the Campanile?

The nickname for the Campanile di San Marco (St. Mark's Campanile) in Venice is "el paròn de casa," which translates to "the master of the house" in the Venetian dialect. This nickname reflects its iconic status as the tallest and most prominent structure in Venice, dominating the skyline of St. Mark's Square and often serving as a point of reference for locals and visitors alike.

What is the purpose of the bell tower?

The primary purpose of the bell tower was to house the bells that mark the passing of time and various events in Venice. Now it serves as an observation point, offering splendid views of the city and its surrounding lagoon.

Can you see the sea from the top of the Campanile?

Yes, from the top of St. Mark's Campanile in Venice, you can see views of the Adriatic Sea. The campanile offers a view of Venice and its surroundings, including the rooftops of the city, St. Mark's Square, the Doge's Palace, and on clear days, the waters of the Adriatic stretching out beyond the city's boundaries.

Was anyone hurt when the Campanile collapsed in 1902?

No human casualties were reported in that tragic event. However, during the clearing of the rubble, workers discovered a small victim: the custodian's cat.

How long did it take to rebuild the Campanile?

The rebuilding of St. Mark's Campanile in Venice began soon after its collapse in 1902. It took approximately 10 years to complete the reconstruction of the campanile.

I’m not a fan of climbing steps. Is the St. Mark’s bell tower view at the top worth that?

You absolutely don’t have to climb the 323 steps! You can ride up the elevator to get to the top, and save yourself the time and trouble!

Does it get crowded at the top?

Yes, the top of the tower can get crowded because there isn’t a lot of space, making it difficult to see comfortably and requiring waiting for others to move to get a clear view. However, despite the crowds, the views are stunning, especially during the sunset, and definitely worth the wait.

How much time should I allow for visiting the Campanile?

Plan to allocate about 20 to 30 minutes for visiting St. Mark's Campanile in Venice, depending on how much time you spend enjoying the views from the top.

Is photography allowed inside the St. Mark’s bell tower?

Yes, it is! Don't forget to take plenty of amazing pictures of the view and of yourself once you arrive there.