St Mark’s bell tower can certainly be considered one of the symbols of Venice, immortalized in many postcards and photos. The Venetians affectionately call it “El parón de casa” to emphasize the importance that this monument has for them. What is its story? Let’s find out together!
The birth of the St Mark’s bell tower
With its height of about 99 meters, the St Mark’s bell tower is a part of the homonymous basilica and also gives its name to the square that houses it. It is located exactly in front of the sea and it is to the sea that it owes its construction. In fact, the construction of the bell tower started on a previous tower structure that had the function of sighting pirates and enemy ships.
According to historical sources, since the Roman era in that same area a watch tower had always been present. The building of the bell tower was entrusted to a group of Venetian architects commissioned by the doge Pietro Tribuno on an uncertain date, presumably between 888 and 912. Its current form was finally achieved thanks to the work of the architect Piero Bon in 1513. Today it’s the tallest monument in Venice and from its top you can enjoy a view up to 40 km away!
The history of the St Mark’s bell tower
Over the centuries the St Mark’s bell tower has known several destructions by both nature and man and has undergone several restoration works that partly changed its original appearance. In 1489 the cusp, at the time in wood, was struck by lightning that caused a devastating fire. It was rebuilt but in 1511 a violent earthquake had almost made the entire tower collapse.
The architects Piero Spavento and Giorgio Bon took care of rebuilding the belfry, replacing the wood used until then with the marble, more beautiful but also safer in case of fire. They decided to raise the characteristic copper cusp above the tower, which is still visible today.
The goal was to make the St Mark’s bell tower visible to sailors even in the open sea. These works were completed in 1513 with a solemn celebration and installation of the wooden sculpture depicting the Archangel Gabriel. The copper cusp, however, made the bell tower a natural lightning rod and caused over the years more than one fire. Therefore, in 1776 it was decided to install a real lightning rod at the top of the bell tower so as to avoid other accidents. All these events, however, gradually diminished the stability of the bell tower which collapsed in 1902. The race for reconstruction started immediately and ended in 1912 with the inauguration of the restored Bell Tower on the occasion of the celebrations of St Mark.
The St Mark’s bell tower today
Nowadays, the St Mark’s bell tower remains one of the symbols of the city and one of the most visited monuments in the world. In order to facilitate tourist visits, a glass elevator has been installed, which allows visitors to enjoy a splendid view. Every year, on the occasion of the famous Venice Carnival, the famous Angel Flight is held: a person in flesh and blood is lowered by a rope from the bell tower to the center of the square to kick off the last stage of the festivities. Many stars have alternated in the part of the Angel in recent years.
And you, have you already taken a tour in one of the symbols of Venice?