In the Shade of San Marco
The history of St. Mark’s Bell Tower
The building of St. Mark’s Bell Tower (once used as a lighthouse) begun in XI century under the Doge Pietro Tribuno but the current look was reached only between 1511 and 1514. It is 98,60 mt. high and is made of a brick base measuring 12m per side and 49,50m in height. The upper part is made of an arched belfry above which is placed a brick cube that sustains the pyramidal roof on top of which is placed “the golden angel”, a golden statue of Archangel Gabriel.
The statue is placed on a revolving platform that moves with the wind so Venetians can tell what the weather will be like just by looking at the angel position. At the Bell Tower foot there is a loggia built on a Jacopo Sansovino project that was used as a lookout by the Major Council guards.
There are 5 bells in the Tower: the Marangona or Major Bell, so called because it announced work shifts of the Marangoni (Arsenal shipwrights) – The Ninth that rang at midday – The Trottiera (from trottare which means to trot) that announced the last call for the Major Council Meetings – the Half Third or Pregadi’s which announced the Senate’s meetings (the Senators were called Pregadi because they were prayed (pregadi) to deal with the most delicate matters) and the Cursed, the smallest, so called because it announced capital executions.
In its long life the St.Mark’s Tower had been struck by lightnings and earthquakes but somehow managed to resist until 14th July 1902 when after incautious building works the tower collapsed. Fortunately there were no victims and no damages to the Basilica but the Loggia was completely destroyed.
When the tower fell down the City Council decided that it should be rebuilt “where it was, how it was” and so happened. Nine years later, in 1912, on St.Mark’s Day, the new Bell Tower was inaugurated.
The expression “bere un’ombra” (lit. to drink a shade), which means drink a glass of wine, goes back to the wine merchants that worked all around the Tower and used its shade to keep their wine fresh. The Bell Tower was known also for the “supplissio de la cheba” (cage torture). The convicted was closed into an iron cage that was then hanged to the Tower with ropes and there stayed day and night as a warning for the citizens.
During Carnival the “Angel’s Flight” took place. This was a striking exercise of equilibrium by an acrobat that walked on a thin rope from the Belfry to the Doge’s Palace. This event takes place also nowadays but the girl is secured with invisible ropes to avoid any kind of incidents.
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