My Reminiscences of events, old and new, and travels, far and near
Saturday, March 2, 2013
Venice, on the 3rd day (late afternoon)
This is a continuation from my last post. We walked down the stairs leaving the Galleria of the San Marco Basilica. It was about 3:00 PM - we had been in the basilica for 2 hours - it did not seem that long. As we left I took a last look at the beautiful mosaics.
Then we were in the Piazzeta San Marco. What a wonderful place to be on a sunny afternoon. It felt like summer even though the calendar said October 5, 2013. In summer there would have been a bigger crowd obviously. This is the center of town - the symbolic heart of Venice. There was so much to admire and enjoy - the history, the mixture of architectural styles and the unique atmosphere. Below is an aerial view from my French guide book.
I had been sitting in the upper balcony facing the piazzeta with the Libreria or Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana (National Library of St. Mark's) on my right and the Palace of the Doges (the Dukes) on my left. Once down at ground level we walked around and I took several pictures. I snapped a picture of the top of the Renaissance building that houses the Biblioteca with its statues reminiscent of antiquity. Construction of this building was started in 1537 and took 50 years to complete. It contains one of the greatest collections of classical manuscripts.
Then I turned around and snapped pictures of the door which connects the Doge's Palace (built in 1309-1424) to St. Mark's Basilica and a window. They both show the Doge kneeling in front of the Winged Lion of St. Mark with its open book.
Before returning to the Campanile of San Marco, or the Bell Tower of St. Mark's, I took a photo of a Gothic balcony window, carved in 1404.
The Campanile, a 7th century bell tower, had been built, at first, as a military watchtower and then became also a lighthouse of sort because of its bronze-sheathed roof which could be seen from afar. After an earthquake in the early 1500s it was rebuilt to its current look - 96.8 meters high (371.5 feet.) Famous people like Galileo and Goethe visited this tower. But on the morning of July 14, 1902, the Campanile collapsed completely. Cracks had been seen on the tower so it had been cordoned off and there were no injuries, except for the cat of the guardian of the tower. The tower was destroyed during the day and tourists must have been close by as postcards were made from some original photographs, as shown below (authors unknown.) The "Logetta" an ornate podium added in 1540 was also destroyed that day.
The Campanile was rebuilt, in the same style, slightly modernized, reinforced and 600 tons lighter. The five bells in the belfry were recast and paid for by Pope Pius X. The original golden weather vane in the form of the Angel Gabriel had its wings broken when the tower fell but had landed in front of the entrance to the Basilica, which was taken as a good omen. It was replaced on top of the tower. Below is the way the Campanile looks now.
The Campanile in the Piazza with St. Mark's Basilica is certainly a view that everyone is familiar with. It has been painted by many artists. In earlier paintings the tower is grey instead of the current brick red.
Below are some old postcards showing the Doge's Palace and Piazza San Marco during a military review and on a crowded day.
When we were high above ground in the outdoor balcony of the basilica I took pictures of the base of the Campanile and saw that construction work was being done there as you can see below.
We walked toward that area and read the following on the wall - see below. It explained the construction of a project to prevent flooding. (Click on picture to read better.)
Piazza San Marco is the lowest point in Venice. For centuries, from late October to December during high tide, when a wind called the scirocco blows from the Mediterranean into the Adriatic Sea, it forces the water into the Venetian lagoon. The water goes up through the drains of the Grand Canal and floods the Piazza. This is called "Acqua Alta" or high water. In part because of global warming, the sea level is rising and this results in an average of 100 floods a year in Venice. In 1966 there was a Great Flood which destroyed $6 billion worth of treasured art and displaced over 5,000 people from their homes. In early November last year, a couple of weeks after we returned to Venice in late October, rain started and Venice experienced an exceptional Acqua Alta with waters 5 feet 1 inch in height (1 m 56 cm.) and 70% of the city was submerged. Elevated boardwalks were placed for people to walk. Below are some pictures from Wikimedia Commons.
The construction project that I photographed above is called the MOSE Project (Experimental Electromechanical Module Project) or also named after Moses and the parting of the Red Sea. The project has been slowed down by political feuding, environmental concerns and controversy over its huge cost - almost 455 billion dollars or 3 billion English pounds. You can read about it on the Internet but in short it is a mechanized floor barrier system with gates that will lay flat on the seafloor. When water levels rise, the gates are pumped full of air and rise above the surface to block the sea water. The works are supposed to be completed in 2015. I found a graphic of the gates on French Wikimedia Commons.
When an acqua alta event of at least a 1 m 10 cm high level of water flooding is forecast, sirens will sound all over the city. First there will be sirens sounding a warning 3 to 4 hours in advance to alert everyone. The sirens have a system to indicate the height of the flood - between a 1 note sound (for a 1.10 meter peak) and 4 notes sound (water peaking at 1.40 meter or higher.) Below is a vintage postcard showing acqua alta in the Piazza San Marco.
But that afternoon the sun was shining. We walked all around the Piazza. This is the only "piazza" in Venice. All other squares are called "campos" or fields (they were fields that were covered up.) On each side of the piazza are two long historic buildings over arcades. On one side are the "Procuraties Vecchie" or old procuracy, in old Venetian style (16th century) and on the other the "Procuraties Nuove" or new procuracy, in Classical style (17th century.) They housed the offices and residences of the Procurators of St. Mark. Today three museums are housed in the buildings. In the arcades are boutiques and cafes. At the end is "Ala Napoleonica" or Napoleon wing which was built when Napoleon troops occupied Venice.
I took a close-up of the top of some columns of the building.
Originally the Piazza was full of trees and a canal ran through it. But it was filled in 1267 and covered with paving slabs. Historically, it was a place for Venetian festivals, religious ceremonies, public executions and military reviews. Now it is one of the most visited squares in the world, a huge tourist attraction with boutiques, cafes and live music. It has always been a popular site for countless artists to paint.
It was hard to believe in a way that I was standing in this historic piazza in the center of the mythical city of Venice. Taking another slight turn I took one more picture of the western façade of Saint Mark's Basilica with all the people and pigeons - many, many pigeons. To be continued...