Saint Mark’s Bell Tower

Saint Mark’s Bell Tower

Practical information

Saint Mark’s bell tower

Opening hours:

  • April 1 – 15
    9 am. – 5.30 pm (last entry 4.45)
  • April 16  –  Settembre 30
    8.30 am. – 9 pm. (last entry 8.45)
  • October 1 – 27
    9.30 am.– 6 pm. (last entry 5.45)
  • October 28 – March 31
    9.30 am. – 4.45 pm. (last entry 4.30)

The Ticket price

  • Full price   8 euro
  • 6 – 18 years  4 euro
  • 0-5 years   free

Skip the line ticket (available from April 1 till November 3)

  • Full price   13 euro
  • 6 – 18 years   9 euro

You go up with the elevator. There’s no possibility to walk up the stairs.

The child under the age of six must be carried in the elevator to qualify for free entry. 

Saint Mark’s bell tower

the bell tower It’s around 99 meters high. It has a cross-section at the base of 12 x 12 meters. The first 50 meters is a plain, red, fluted brick-wall, without any decoration. After that, there’s the bell chamber in white marble with four windows on each side. Over that, you see another few meters of red brick wall with the Venetian lion and San Mark and on top of those the long squared cone in copper. Closest to the sky we have the archangel Gabriel showing from where the wind blows.

In the Bell chamber, there are five bells and each one has its own name and function.

La Marangona (Major Bell), or Campanon (Great Bell), plays the note A, It has a diameter of 1,8 m and weighs 3,625 kg. It is the largest bell and the only one that was saved from the collapse of the bell tower in 1902. It announced the beginning and end of the working hours of the Carpenters at the Arsenale, as well as the sessions of the Maggior Consiglio (The great council inside the Doge’s Palace)

La Nona (the ninth), plays the note B. It has a diameter of 1,56 m and weighs 2,556 kg. It marked and still marks midday and also indicated the deadline for sending mail to Rialto.

La Trottiera (the trotter), plays the note C. It has a diameter of 1.385 m and weighs 1,807 kg.
It gave the second signal to the Venetian nobles, who had to participate in the meetings of the Great Council. They trotted horses at its sound.

La Pregadi (The Senators) or Mezza terza (half third) as it plays the note D, halfway between C and E. It has a diameter of 1,29 m and weighs 1,366 kg. It announced the meetings of the Senate. It also called the faithful to religious services.

A symbol of the republic

The bell tower is one of the symbols of Venice. It’s the highest point in the city and it was once the highest point in the whole republic. Or at least that was the law. No other building (read bell tower, cause those were the highest buildings around. Trying to reach God) were suppose to exceed the wonder of the bell tower on Saint Mark’s Square.

And still today it’s the fourth highest bell tower in Italy. The tower you see today is from the 16th century. Well, actually it is from 1912 but more about that later. And it was at the beginning of 1500 that it got the present, impressive appearance and hight, a monument over the power of the republic.

But it had a much less imposing beginning.

The bell tower wasn’t built as a bell tower. The new republic needed more functional constructions, and a tower could be used for better things than ringing the bells. In the 800s it was a lighthouse and a watchtower. The guards could watch over the city and keep the streets free from all kinds of low life and hoodlums. The biggest danger for the medieval towns though, was fire, and that’s what the watchtowers were mainly used for.

Some historians claim that before the watchtower from the 9th century there was a roman structure. That’s a very nice hypothesis, but probably not true. The early Venetian history is not well documented and many historians try to put important events, historical connections, and dates that simply do not hold up against the evidence.

That’s the case with the famous church San Giacomino right behind Rialto. This is supposed to be the very first church in Venice and the legend says that it was built by a Carpenter from Padova already in 421 AD, a year that sometimes figures as the foundation-year of Venice. It’s just not true. The church is probably from the 12th century. 

Then it became Saint Mark’s bell tower

the bell towerIn the 1100s it was renovated and changed into a bell tower. The bell towers in Aquileia and Forli were models and the Venetian tower got square brick-walls. In the 1300s another re-modulation took place, and this time engineers from France and from Holland were called upon to reinforce the structure.

In 1489 a lightning hit the tower. Much of the top was damaged and the whole top cone was destroyed. In 1511 an earthquake caused damage to a point where a complete overhaul was inevitable. It had suffered too much.

The lightning 1489 wasn’t the only lightning to hit and damage the tower. It happened in 1388, 1489, in 1548 1562, 1565, 1567, 1582, again in 1663 1745, and finally in 1761. In 1776 a lightning rod was put up, the first one in Venice, by Giuseppe Toaldo from Padova. He had studied the works of Benjamin Franklin and constructed a system similar to that of the American.

The new tower

So, a restoration was initiated, and the new tower was ready in 1513. Now it had reached the dimensions of today, which was almost twice as high as before 1500 and much heavier. The top cone was huge and on top of it the golden archangel Gabriel on a rotating platform which lets him show from where the wind blows. And now the tower was completed, as we see it today.

In 1609 Galileo Galilei used the bell tower to demonstrate his telescope.

On the evening of 30 September 1786 Goethe, visiting Venice, went up the bell tower to see the panorama of the lagoon.  That is when he saw the sea for the first time.

And now we arrive in 1902 and the tragic collapse.

The entrance to the tower on the east side goes through what we call La Loggetta. It’s a little pavilion attached to the tower and it was used as a meeting place for the nobles, as well as logging for the guards. They had detected an infiltration at the roof and restoration was initiated to seal the copper plates. Domenico Rupolo was called to lead the work. Antonio Moresco was his assistant.

When they had removed the roof plates a horizontal crack became visible in the tower wall. This was the 7th of July 1902 and the two engineers immediately reported the issue to the authorities.

The day after, when inspecting the crack, it seemed to have been widened. And July 9, it seemed to have opened even more. Rupolo and Moresco sent a second report and asked to have the square partially cleared from curious spectators. The 10th a vertical crack had appeared and now things were getting more alarming.

It was the lightning bolt’s fault.

More experts were called in and more investigations were made. The problems were caused by an inadequate reparation of a crack from a bolt of lightning in 1747. It was decided to put steel wires around the north-east corner to hold the tower in place.

saint marks squareJuly 12 the crack was visible from a distance. Sunday the 13th it reached the bell chamber. It was now obvious that something was going to fall down. But still, the city didn’t realize the gravity of the situation. The tower was closed off for the public. Until then visitors had been able to enter. And a concert that was going to take place in the square that night, was suspended.

Monday the 14th of July

at 5,30 in the morning, the two engineers were in place, but they soon realized that the crack had widened a lot during the night. They sent home the workers. When asked how long they thought the bell tower could last, they responded: “…four, five days, at the most”. At 9 a clock, a commission from the city was supposed to enter the tower, but architect  Rupolo refused to let them pass. Instead, he and Moresco went inside to get the ringer Pietro Ubaldo Caroncini, who had a small apartment inside the tower and dragged him out.

At 9.30 a group of guardians placed a long ladder to the eastern wall of the tower to be able to inspect the crack. As soon as the ladder touched the wall, pieces of bricks and cement started falling down. The captain of the guardians immediately ordered the enlargement of the safe zone, pulled down the ladder and holding it horizontally, started pushing the curious people away from the tower. Rupolo and Moresco ran along the arcade, closest to the tower, to get everybody out and away.

At 9.40 there were only 12 people close to the tower. When a dark, dry sound came from inside the eastern wall, they all started running, and 9.47 the whole bell tower came down with the sound as from an earthquake. What could have been a monumental tragedy for Venice and the Venetians, turned out reasonably well, in the end… If a collapsed 100 meter-tower, could ever be described as something that tiìurned out well.  The tower was gone but the only casualty was the ringer’s cat who was left inside.

Rebuilding Saint Mark’s bell tower just as it was

The Venetian spirit soon took over and the city decided to rebuild the bell tower with the motto: Dov’era com’era. Where it was and as it was. A principle that would come handy also at the restoration of the Teatro La Fenice after the fire 1997.

Very interesting was the piling underneath the tower. It had much shorter poles and it was much more limited in extension than expected. The poles were a little more than 3,5 meters and it was practically only present right underneath the tower. Not further out into the square as expected. This also contradicts the idea that the piling in Venice is sort of standing on the Carranto. 

Another surprising fact was the state in which the piling was found. The wood was almost perfect. Intact from degrading and rottening but turned into stone by the minerals and the lack of oxygen.

Anyway, they dug down to a depth of 10 meters. Then they put more poles, longer poles, and made the foundation stronger and better. The tower is now completely safe and there is no cause for alarm. In fact, the bell tower is probably one of the safest buildings in Venice today.

the bell tower