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St. Mark's Campanile - The Famous Belltower of Venice

May 26, 2008
When you think of Venice, what symbol comes to mind? For many Venetians, that symbol is the bell tower of the Basilica di San Marco. This bell tower is known in English as St. Mark's Campanile.

The Archangel Gabriel looks down on the city from 323 feet high in the sky (nearly 100 meters), although he is, technically, an incredibly fancy weathervane. He stands on a pyramid-shaped spire on the belfry - home to Venice's five bells - which leads down the earth-toned brick tower to rest on a 39 square foot base.

Not many of Venice's original structures remain. The current St. Mark's Campanile is a perfect replica of the one which collapsed in 1902. It had stood for over 500 years. The current incarnation - its third - was built in 1912.

The current incarnation of St Mark's Campanile is based on the second tower, which sports the shape and features that made it world-renowned. It was this second tower that Venetians fell in love with and began to identify with. Non-Venetian fans of St Mark's Campanile include Galileo and Goethe (who wasn't even Italian).

Because the bell tower was so large, it gave a commanding view of the surrounding countryside. This saw it being used by the military as well as the clergy. Venetians listened for the bells not only to remind them of church, but to be warned that danger was coming and you had to get ready for battle.

The bells have their own nicknames and jobs in their bell tower. One bell - Nona - only rings at the hour of nine. Another bell, the largest, nicknamed "the carpenter", rings to begin and end the average work day. Another dreaded bell tolls the death of a prisoner. Yet another is reserved to remind Venice's politicians to attend the Doge's Palace.

Although not as gaudy as some other Venetian structures, the bell tower is still far from plain. The brick takes on skin tones. At the top, golf leaf glints in the sun. No bats are in this belfry, but lions can be seen walking around it. There is also a woman in bas relief represented who is a symbol of Venice herself.

Many tourists enjoy taking the elevator ride up the Campanile to enjoy the view and the interior artwork of the tower. They can also see the intricate marble works of the attic and meet the bells in the belfry.
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