25 June, 2006

31. The Campanile – top down

The Campanile of San Marco dominates the only open space in Venice that carries the name 'Piazza'. It stands at one end of San Marco Piazza next to the Piazzetta which joins the lagoon to the main piazza. Originally, the Piazzetta was a dock, and where the campanile is today there stood a watchtower. When the dock was filled in to create the Piazzetta next to the Doge's Palace, the watchtower became a belltower, which has since been rebuilt several times.

The design of the Campanile reached its present form in 1514, but although identical in appearance, this building is not the one that was built 500 years ago. This one was built as its replacement in 1912, after its earlier incarnation suddenly collapsed on the morning of July 14, 1902, leaving nothing but a huge mound of white rubble and dust.

Amazingly, according to all reports I have read, no-one was killed. There may have been a cat under the pile of rubble in some reports, but not a single citizen or visitor was said to be missing. On any given morning today at around 9am, dozens if not hundreds of tourists would be wiped out, but in 1902, Venice was a different place.

You might think like I do that as Venetian buildings go it's not that great, why bother rebuilding it? Many Venetians in 1902 would have agreed with you, and there were some strong arguments that San Marco would look better without it, and rebuilding it would be a waste of taxpayers' money. Unfortunately, 'friends of Venice' in other countries donated enough money to cover the cost, and perhaps sensing that the future of this great city would rely more and more on its foreign visitors, Venice bowed to that external pressure and, regrettably, put it back up.

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