Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Campanile 2.0

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".


Tamas Feher from Hungary said...

How many steps does it take to reach the top of the Campanile? The answer is curious.

Nereo Zane said...

Visitors are no longer allowed to go to the top using stairs. There is a lift that brings you up in less than a minute if you have the patient to wait half an hour for your turn.

Tamas Feher from Hungary said...

The lift part of the statement is correct, ordinary visitors indeed need to use the lift.

The stairs issue is still unanswered, even though the privileged ones have to walk many steps to reach the top of the Campanile!

Nereo said...

Only service / maintenance personnel are allowed to use stairs. As soon as I have the answer I'll post it up

Tamas Feher from Hungary said...

I have sent an e-mail to Nereo.

Tamas Feher from Hungary said...

> Timber foundations similar to those used for the first tower were used, but in this case they were double the size.

The venetian masons of 1902 were rather conservative. The London Big Ben tower has about the same dimensions as the San Marco Campanile and about the same relation to water.

It was built in 1859 with a poured concrete cube foundation 3x15x15 meters large (10x50x50ft). The designer supposedly saw the dangers of underground railway tunneling in advance and wanted to set really massive foundations so the Big Ben won't topple.

Hope the diggers will not misuse the Campanile's foundation timbers for sleepers when the venetian metro railway line is built eventually 8-)