Piazza San Marco, Venice

We got up early Monday morning to beat the crowds and boarded a vaporetto bound for the focal point of Venice, Piazza San Marco. If you’ve seen a postcard from Italy, it likely features this famous square.

We chose first to go to the top of the campanile to get our bearings. The bell tower was finished in 1514 but on a Sunday evening in July, 1902, visitors sipping coffee in the square were alarmed to hear a groan from the structure. The next morning the tower toppled into a mound of bricks. Remarkably, no one was killed except the caretaker’s cat. The current tower was re-built and opened in 1912.

There’s little doubt Venice’s lagoon foundation is tenuous at best. Mom made sure to point out cracks in the ceiling as we were standing in line (thanks). Evidently, due to years of winter flooding, the subsoil is saturated causing the tower to lean again. The Italian government is installing a titanium ring underneath the foundation to firm things up.

An ultra-modern elevator whisked us up to the observation level just under the bells. I liked the engraved motif of the tower with little red lights to show your progress on the ascent. The crisp morning air was clear and we could see down past the domes of the basilica and across the red-tiled roofs of Venice.

After returning safely to the ground, we joined a fast-moving line in front of the basilica. Inside, stern Italian guards reminded you no photos were allowed of the domes and arches covered by golden mosaics (we were awestruck). I did sneak a photo of the ornate floor just to keep things daring:

Back in the square, we hurried over to the Museum Correr entrance to join our booked English-speaking tour of the clock tower. I’d reserved tickets online but forgot Europeans display the week beginning with Monday instead of Sunday like we do in the States. The kind Italian gentleman manning the desk tapped away at his computer and corrected our tickets (grazie mille!).

Inaugurated in 1497, Venice’s clock tower is topped by a pair of animated bell-ringers with hammers who strike on the hour. Originally, an angel blowing a trumpet and Magi (wise men) paraded out and tipped their crowns. Now, the characters are installed to perform only two days of the year.

In the mid-1800s, their places were taken by one of the world’s first “digital” clocks. The importance of a more exact time had increased since the 1400s and two massive dials were installed to show hour (roman numerals) and five-minute increments. These clicked to life and rotated while we watched from inside the tower.

We squeezed up narrow stairs to the top of the tower to inspect the bell (still the original from the late 1400s) and ringers more closely. We could also look down on the parade of humanity in the square. Our tour ended in time for us to vacate the tower and protect our ears before the ringers got busy.

Lots of tourists pay for expensive gondola rides in Venice but we followed the locals and boarded a traghetto. As a public service, gondoliers man boats once a month at special stations and paddle passengers across the Grand Canal for just two Euro. It was quite a different experience than riding the usually-packed vaporetto boats!

I’ve mentioned it before but I love documenting the old architectural details in Venice. So much artistry in even the most mundane of places.

I think Italians still pay attention to the details. Anyone else see a playful robot face in this modern doorbell plate?

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