St.Mark’s Bell Tower crumbled 120 years ago. The wrecks of the “Paron de casa” sunken at the Lido island

13 September 2022

Venice, July 11th, 2022 – A dull noise, a cloud covering the square and an unusual emptiness that changes the skyline of the city. The Bell Tower crumbled, making room to rubbles and ruins. It’s July 14th, 1902, one hundred and twenty years ago, when the Venetians witnessed the collapse of St. Mark’s bell tower. Just a few seconds, and the bell tower – with the Angel Gabriel on top, protecting the city – collapsed, without affecting monuments nearby nor killing people.

“Tiny pieces of column collapsed from the top together with ledges and sculptures. Stones and rubbles fall, yet without affecting the Basilica. Nevertheless, the façade of the Marciana Library”.

With these words the archaeologist Giacomo Boni described what he saw and how people had lost, in a few seconds, their main landmark.

The bell tower crumbled on itself, leaning towards north-east due to wrong masonry works, as it had been proved later. The original tower was in fact raised and modified, yet without strengthening the foundations. In the rebuild of the tower, different techniques, and criteria according to the new century were followed. Where originally laid a watchtower, a nearly 100-metres high bell tower was first built in the XII century. Later, between 1511 and 1514 it was rebuilt. Research following the collapse revealed structural problems and the use of low-quality materials which facilitated the erosion through years. Among ruins and rubble, not only ancient and solid roman bricks with different shapes from Aquileia, but also low-quality bricks used to fix damages. White mortars turned into dust under the flowing of bells and wind blowing, whitening roofs and the floor, as if snow had fallen all over Venice.

How was it and where was it. It was the Municipality of Venice that decided, a few months later, on April 25th, 1903, placing the first stone. On that very same day, later in 1912, on the day of St.Mark’s, the new bell tower was opened.

The building, faithfully reproduced on its outside, was completed by some new parts to fix the damages. Two new Lions in Istrian stone replaced those destroyed with the fall of the Repubblica. On top, the original statue was reassembled with some pieces of the previous one in copper, a faithful reproduction of the 1822 model.

The rubbles of the bell tower was thrown into the sea three miles away from the coast of Lido. Gigeta Alessandri, daughter Angelo, a painter who used to work for John Ruskin, was the first one to throw into the sea one of the 1.2000.000 pieces of bricks of the old bell tower. A funeral that begins from St. Mark’s and ends at the Lido, with the first rubbles transported by barge. To that sea, Venice gave a part of herself and among those bricks, venetians collected a “sad white cargo, resembling to cremated bones”. The crowd, gathered along the shores, silently watched the last journey of what remained of one of the most important landmarks of their city.

Nevertheless, the story of the bell tower continued. Some years ago, the sea began to give back some bricks of the old bell tower and, in 2021, the cultural project “El paron de casa '' had been launched, putting in the spotlight a symbol of rebirth.



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