Venice's trademark bell tower, the free-standing campanile in Piazza San Marco, is one of the city's most recognized structures. The iconic tower can be seen in paintings and photographs of the piazza dating back to the Twelfth Century. And while it's easy to assume that we are looking at the same campanile in all of them, today's bell tower is actually the second version.
The original structure here, built in 1173, reportedly served as a watchtower, lighthouse, and even part of a torture aparatus.
In the early 1500's, after an earthquake, the tower was restored by Bartolomeo Bon. It was this restoration that brought the tower to it's present aesthetic appearance. Several restorations were subsequently undertaken, and the famous campanile survived until 1902, when it suddenly collapsed. The only forewarning came in the form of a growing crack in the north wall. When the tower came down that morning in July, amazingly the only casualty was the caretaker's cat, and very little damage was done to the surrounding buildings in the piazza.
The community leaders decided to rebuild the campanile "dov'era e com'era" (where it was and how it was). Some obvious considerations needed to be made regarding the durability of the structure to insure that the second iteration didn't suffer the same fate as the previous one. Timber foundations similar to those used for the first tower were used, but in this case they were double the size. Ten years later the new tower was completed and open to the public.
Seeing the campanile in-person can inspire a true sense of awe; it is so much bigger than any other bell tower in the area.
Today's campanile, like the tower she replaced, stands 323 feet tall (over 98 meters), and is 39 feet wide in some places (12 meters). It has inspired a number of other bell towers in various parts of the world, and even been outright copied a few times.
I guess the old latin proverb rings true:
"Immitation is the sincerest form of flattery".