The campanile of St. Mark's is an imposing square plan tower about 100 metres high, crowned by a spire that was once a lighthouse for shipping. It is the prototype of all the campaniles of the lagoon area.
It was first built in the 12th century on the site of what was probably a watchtower and rebuilt in its current form early in the 16th centurywith the addition of a belfry and with the spire faced in copper and topped by a sort of rotating platform with a statue of the Archangel Gabriel which functioned as a weathercock. Of the five original bells only the largest remains. The others, now replaced, were destroyed when the tower collapsed on the 14th July of 1902, at 9.47 in the morning.
There was a rush for the reconstruction: with the word "Where it was and how it was" immediately began the working for the refurbishing one of the most important symbols of the city.
From the 14th century, on the base of the bell tower there were stalls selling handicrafts and wine. They used to move with the shadow of the tower, so people started saying “Andèmo bèver al’ombra” (Let's go drinking in the shadow). In time, in popular speech, the phrase became “Andèmo bèver un’ombra” (Let's go drinking a shadow), where the meaning of the word "shadow" is changed, pointing instead to a glass of wine. This is what the Venetians say when they invite a friend to drink something.
In 1609 Galileo Galilei presented his new invention, the telescope, the Doge and the Council of the Serenissima
From the belfry loggia there is a spectacular bird's eye view of the city and the lagoon. Against the base of the campanile is the balcony built by Jacopo Sansovino between 1537 and 1549 and decorated with marbles and bronzes .
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