One of the most famous landmarks of Venice, the San Marco Campanile Bell Tower, stands just across from the equally iconic St. Mark’s Basilica.
The bell tower is the tallest structure in the city and visitors can climb to the top and enjoy stunning panoramic views over Venice.
The San Marco Campanile Bell Tower was originally built in the 12th century. In the 16th century the tower was rebuilt with the addition of a belfry, alongside a golden statue of the Archangel Gabriel, which also functioned as a weathercock. When Gabriel is facing the Basilica, Venetians know there will be high water.
Unfortunately, in 1902, the tower crumbled in an earthquake. Luckily no one was killed, apart from a cat, and a few years later a replica tower was built. In the earthquake, four of the original bells were lost, but one still remains to this day.
On the day of the earthquake, the city council gathered and declared that the tower would be rebuilt ‘how it was and where it was.’ Work began in 1903 and by 1912 the bell tower was once more towering over Venice with the golden statue of Gabriel atop. In the construction, they used as many of the original bricks and materials as possible and so much of the tower still dates back to the 16th century.
The Bells of San Marco Campanile
The five bells of the tower are as famous as the tower itself. Each one chimed for a different reason, and each one had a unique name. The Nona chimed on the ninth hour, the Marangona or ‘carpenter’, rang out every morning and evening to mark the beginning and end of the work day. The Maleficio served a more sombre purpose and its chime announced that an execution was about to take place, and the Tottiera and the bell of the Pregadi summoned judges and senators to their seats in the Doge’s Palace.
Now, the bell tower only sings twice a day, at noon and at midnight. But you can still get a taste of what this grand old Italian landmark once sounded like. If you head to the piazza at midnight when this part of Venice is at its quietest, you’ll hear the solitary peal of the Marangona. In the quiet of St. Marks Square, with the tall tower above you and the old buildings of Venice standing vigil with you, you’ll experience an almost spiritual moment that will last long after the bell falls silent.
The View from the Top
On a clear day, the view from the bell tower is truly sublime. You can see the city of Venice laid out beneath you and in the distance the islands of Giudecca, San Giorgio, Murano, and Lido. From the narrow-balcony atop the bell tower you can see the multiple domes and spires of the cathedral below you, and you can see out into the busy Bacino San Marco basin.
Visiting the San Marco Campanile Bell Tower in Venice is truly wonderful. The view from the belfry, the peal of the last of the five bells, and the golden statue of Gabriel atop the tower all add up to an experience like no other.