Atop one of the two ancient granite columns in the Piazzetta di San Marco stands a winged lion, its front paws resting on an open book.
Although it is supposed to represent a Leone Marciano, the winged lion, which is the symbol of Saint Mark the Evangelist (the patron saint of Venice), this bronze lion probably started life as a chimera (a hybrid creature, part lion, part goat, part snake) and came here from the Levant in the form of plunder.
Its exact origin is still hotly debated (Ancient Roman, Indian, Chinese, Assyrian, Persian, Sassanid), as is its age. However, it seems certain that it dates back to a time well before the birth of either Saint Mark or the Venetian Republic.
We do not know when the lion was first placed on the column, which was erected in 1172. It appears in the records for the first time in 1293. After Napoleon's conquest of the Venetian Republic in 1797 the lion was whisked off to Paris as one of the spoils of war. On its return in 1815, it was dropped and broke into pieces. It was restored by Bartolomeo Ferrari, who added a new pair of wings and a new book.
The Leone Marciano is always accompanied by a book, which, if open, reveals the words Pax Tibi Marce Evangelista Meus (Peace be with you Mark my Evangelist).
Blogging about Venice:
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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 &