A few minutes before 10 o'clock, on the morning of July 14th, 1902, the campanile (bell tower) in Piazza San Marco suddenly came crashing to the ground. The ancient and venerable bell tower, which had dominated the piazza for more than a thousand years, was suddenly no more than a huge pile of rubble.
The collapse of the tower could have done untold damage to the surrounding buildings, but it fell, in the words of Venetians, 'like a gentleman', destroying nothing more than the Loggetta del Sansovino and the corner of the Biblioteca Marciana.
By some miracle, the only fatality was Melampyge, the cat of the caretaker of the bell tower, who was named after Casanova's fox-terrier. Jan Morris writes in her classic book on Venice that the six shirts, which the custodian's wife had just ironed, were found unruffled under the debris.
In a city of bell towers, the towering brick edifice in Piazza San Marco was the tallest (99 metres/325 feet) as well as the oldest. It was known affectionately by the Venetians as 'el paron di casa' (the master of the house).
The decision was immediately taken to rebuild the tower dov' era e com' era (where it was and how it was). However, there were a few dissenting voices who suggested doing nothing at all; the piazza, they thought, looked better without its bell-tower!
El paron was duly rebuilt by Luca Beltrami and Gaetano Moretti and officially re-opened on April 25th, 1912, exactly one thousand years after the foundations of the original structure had, supposedly, been laid. April 25th is, of course, the feast day of St Mark the Evangelist, Venice's patron saint.
At the celebratory banquet six of the guests wore the shirts which the custodian's wife had ironed a decade earlier!
Blogging about Venice:
its art, history & culture.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England.
Since 200I I have been living in Italy, where I run private tours of Florence, Rome &