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July 14 St Marks Tower collapses in Venice

Today in 1902 the famous Campanile or Bell Tower in St Mark's Square, collapsed, demolishing the loggetta beneath it. No one was injured as the Square had been cleared. That same evening, the communal council convened in an emergency session and voted unanimously to rebuild the bell tower exactly as it was dov’era e com’era "where it was and how it was”. The council also approved an initial 500,000 Lire for the reconstruction. The province of Venice followed with 200,000 Lire


Often ranked as the most beautiful city in the world, recently described by The New York Times as "undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man" Venice has achieved a global cultural renown. It was the home to Vivaldi, the Italian priest-composer, best-known for the Four Seasons, a series of violin concertos known as. Many of his compositions were written for the all-female music ensemble of the Ospedale della Pietà, a home for abandoned children where he worked as a priest for 18 months. From the 9th to the 12th century, Venice had developed into a city state alongside Genoa, Pisa, and Amalfi. Its strategic position at the head of the Adriatic made Venetian naval and commercial power dominant, the two were intertwined and its navy protected sea routes. When piracy was supressed along the Dalmatian coast, the city became a flourishing trade centre between Western Europe and the rest of the world— and a key node in a network to the Byzantine Empire and Asia.

The Doge of Venice was the chief magistrate and leader of the Republic of Venice between elected for life by the city-state's aristocracy. St Mark's Basilica was ordered by the doge in 828 to house the corpse of St Mark after Venetian merchants had smuggled it out of Egypt in a barrel of pork fat. When the original building burned down, the basilica was rebuilt influenced by the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, with a profusion of domes and more than 8000 sq metres of luminous mosaics. it is now considered to be one of the best-known examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture. However, many of its rich artefacts and relics were plundered from Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade in 1204, including many from the Hagia Sophia. This is a continuing scandal and obstacle to relations with the Orthodox Church (see pod of May 7). The famous icon of the Virgin Nicopeia, was looted from the Monastery of Stoudios and was one of the city's most precious icons, carried into battle by various Byzantine emperors. The altar of the Virgin Nicopeia remains in St. Mark's Basilica and to the Venetians, the icon was a symbol that God had transferred His blessing from Constantinople to Venice by military conquest. Something that is, at least, theologically very difficult to justify (see pod of Mar 25)

St Mark's Campanile is the bell tower of the Basilica and the tallest structure in Venice, at over 98 meters high. It became a symbol of the city and is colloquially termed "el paròn de casa" (the master of the house). Its location near the mouth of the Grand Canal, indicates it was initially intended as a watchtower to sight approaching ships and protect the entry to the city and also as a landmark to guide Venetian ships safely into harbour. Construction began in the early tenth century and continued sporadically over time as the tower was slowly raised in height and the spire was gilded, making the tower visible to distant ships in the Adriatic. The campanile reached its full height in 1514 and historically, the bells served to regulate the civic and religious life of Venice, marking the beginning, pauses, and end of the work day; the convocation of government assemblies; and public executions. Three sides of the bell tower were covered with wooden lean-to stalls, destined for retail activities, an additional source of revenue for the procurators of Saint Mark and were leased in order to finance the maintenance of the buildings in the square. The lean-to stalls were removed in 1873 and the base was discovered to be in poor condition but restoration was limited to repairing surface damage. Subsequent inspection reports by engineers and architects were reassuring & in 1902, work was underway to repair the roof of the Logetta – the covered exterior gallery attached to the bell tower. The Logetta served as a gathering place for nobles whenever they came to the square on government business and for the sentries who protected the entry to the Doge's Palace whenever the Great Council was in session.

By 12 July, a large crack had formed on the northern side of the tower and plaster tell-tales were inserted into the crevices. A technical commission was immediately formed, & wooden barricades were erected to keep onlookers at a safe distance as pieces of mortar began to break off. Access to the tower was prohibited, and only the bell signalling the beginning and end of the work day was to be rung in order to limit vibrations. The following day, Sunday, the customary band in Saint Mark's Square was cancelled for the same reason. The next morning, Monday 14 July, the latest tell-tales were all discovered broken; the maximum crack that had developed since the preceding day was 0.75 centimetres. At 09:30 it was ordered that the square be evacuated. Stones began to fall at 9:47, and at 9:53 the entire bell tower collapsed. Subsequent investigations determined that the immediate cause of the disaster was the collapse of the access ramps located between the inner and outer shafts of the tower. Beginning at the upper levels, these fell one by one atop the others. Without their support, the outer shaft then caved in against the inner shaft. Because of this implosion and the tower's isolated position, the resulting damage was relatively limited. Apart from the logetta, which was completely demolished, the basilica itself was unharmed, the sole fatality was the custodian's cat.

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