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A Garden in Venice

Garden art & lifestyle

Celebrating the Special Birthday of the Campanile

Which is the most massive, highest and awe-inspiring structure in Venice? You will surely guess it is the Campanile in Piazza San Marco. But did you know that the Campanile di San Marco that we see today is not the original one built back in 1511? And of course it is not the first bell tower in wood, built in the 9th century AD, when  large parts of the Piazza were still part of the brolo, a herb and vegetable garden belonging to the monastery of San Zaccaria. Right from the start, the Campanile was to act as observation tower and lighthouse for incoming ships. 
We must not take the Campanile for granted: 98.6 meters high, the most massive building standing on the soft ground of the former garden of the nuns at the Monastero di San Zaccaria. 
There is an on-going story behind the life of these campanili: Before the year 2012 comes to an end, I would like to draw the attention of readers to the fact that in 2012, Venice celebrated a very special anniversary: the Campanile that you can see today in Piazza San Marco just opposite the Basilica, celebrated its 100th birthday: on 25 April 2012, Saint Mark's Day, this inauguration day back in 25 April 1912 was remembered.
In the year 1902, on 14 July at 09:50 in the morning, with Venetians looking on in terror and shock, the Campanile re-constructed in the year 1511, simply collapsed amidst a huge cloud of ashes and mattoni, covering the surrounding buildings, Basilica, Biblioteca del Sansovino, Procurazie Vecchie e Nuove, with dust and debris.
What was left from the Campanile on 15 July 1902 ... The main bell, the huge marangona, that chimed at the beginning of the work day, was saved. Fotos by Venezia Today
All of a sudden, Venice had been deprived of its beloved symbol. It took ten years to rebuild it - com'era, dov'era (how it was, where it was .... as the typical saying goes in Venice, when some landmark building is destroyed and a proposition is therefore made to rebuild it. The last time, this promise was heard in town when the Teatro La Fenice burnt down in 1996). 
Venice without Campanile - picture postcard from 1902
My grandmother's mother and grandparents witnessed this fateful time in Venice, and it was referred to in the family as an unspeakable day of collective Venetian nightmare and mourning that took openly place in the Piazza the day after. A Piazza San Marco without Campanile is unimaginable - and it looked rather empty as you can see in the short video below. Still - the topic of how to strengthen the Campanile goes on and on, and currently, repair and stabilization works are taking place.

98.6 meters high: The massive structure of the Campanile, and to the right you can see the mighty shade darkening the Palazzo Ducale's pale-rose facade. Currently, it is a sort of construction site again as the structure needs to be stabilized as well as the fundaments on which it rests.
The Campanile has been essential to Venetian everyday life ever since, and has even coined a very special Venetian habit during the day, I am referring to the custom of "andar per ombre". This means getting a refreshing tiny glass of local wine, either in the late morning or in the late afternoon. Ombra means shade, but it is not just any the shade from any building - it is the Campanile's shade.
At the times of the Venetian Republic, the Piazza San Marco was not just used for representative purposes but it belonged to Venetians themselves. Bancarelle or banchi di mescita - stalls selling refreshments in Piazza San Marco: in the hot summer sun these stalls were shifted constantly, following the shade provided by the huge Campanile.
So how was this anniversary of resurrection celebrated? Amongst others, an exhibition on the history of the Campanile took place at the Galleria Salizada, ...
By the way, last year on 25 April, the tradition of the ombra was resuscitated, to remember the times when the Piazza belonged to Venetians, and their stalls, and people enjoying the refreshing shade of the Campanile:

Picture by Canaletto showing the botteghe  - stalls in Piazza San Marco
Here you can see how last year, Associazione di Piazza San Marco organized bancarelle stalls, next to the Campanile of course, to offer calici di vino to Venetians and visitors.

And even today, the Campanile's shade takes center stage:
A picture by, telling how the broad shade thrown by the Campanile is welcome to visitors today ... 
The Campanile in the soft afternoon light, a picture I took in early October


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