Leaning tower. This one is Chiesa di Santo Stefano. It has been reconsecrated six times after murders that took place within. One of a few in Venice with a leaning tower. Over the years there have been many that have collapsed. There’s something so magical about that first view of Venice after arrival, when you see the towers and domes in the distance as you make your way across the lagoon. It really looks like some kind of unearthly fairy tale city, and those bell towers are so very beautiful.
Jacopo de Barbari’s famous 1503 map shows 103 bell towers in Venice proper (the six sestieri). Today there are 66 in the historic center plus a few more on the lagoon islands, and the history of these towers is a fascinating but rather hair-raising tale of one disaster after another. The most famous collapse was the campanile di San Marco, but that’s only the most recent one - they’ve been falling for centuries due to earthquakes, subsidence, and old age. A bunch of them fell on the same day during a 1347 earthquake and legend has it that earlier in the day, their bells mysteriously rang on their own, announcing their impending doom perhaps?
A few were blown down by high winds, several collapsed when people tried to straighten them, and others were demolished when they became unsafe. A number of towers were struck by lightning and burned. A recent lightning strike was at San Giorgio Maggiore in 1994 – the wooden angel on top of the campanile caught on fire and its charred remains are now inside the church. Andasamo took a great photo of it. The angel that’s now on top of the tower is new.
Quite a few priests, monks, and innocent bystanders were killed by these falling towers over the centuries. Of course, it wouldn’t be Venice without another miraculous story, and this one concerns the tower in the photo above which is from the church of SS. Apostoli. This tower was built in 1450 and then in 1659 during a violent storm, the belfry blew off. During the reconstruction in 1672, an old priest named Domenico Longo climbed up the tower to check on the work and slipped and fell, but his robes were caught on the arms of the clock on the side of the tower, where he dangled until he was rescued.
Many bell towers were destroyed along with their churches when Napoleon conquered the Republic and “embarked on a policy the savagery of which, even now, sends shivers down the spine. It took the form of a frontal attack on the religious institutions of Venice.” (John Julius Norwich in Paradise of Cities).