Venice is a breathtaking port that has lured visitors from far and wide for centuries, partly due to its incredible history filled with art, culture, and innovation. Few locations embody these qualities more than St. Mark’s Bell Tower — an architectural marvel that still towers over historic Piazza San Marco and neighboring Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica.
Come explore St Mark’s Campanile in Venice, an incredible feat of architecture that has been part of this city’s history since the 9th century. With this guide, you can admire the outstanding views from above and learn all about its renaissance past, bell traditions, and ornate carvings.
History of St. Mark’s Campanile
Campanile di San Marco, sometimes locally referred to as “il paron di casa,” or the master of the house, is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Venice. The tower’s rich historical background dates back to the 9th century when the first campanile was originally built on the site.
The earliest bell tower was made of wood and was used to signal important events in the city, such as fires or invasions.
In the early 16th century, the wooden tower was in disrepair, and the Venetian government commissioned a new tower to be built in St. Mark’s Square. The current tower was completed in 1519 and was designed by the architect Giorgio Spavento. The tower was designed to symbolize Venetian power and wealth and show the city’s architectural prowess.
The second campanile stood for almost 400 years before the tower collapsed in 1902. The collapse was caused by a combination of factors, including a crack in the foundation and multiple lightning strikes.
The tower was quickly rebuilt, and the new one was completed in 1912 and inaugurated on St. Mark’s Day (April 25). This version of the bell tower was an exact replica of the original, down to the brick and marble. At 98.6 meters tall, it is the tallest structure in Venice and one of the tallest bell towers in Italy.
A golden angel turns like a weather vane at the very top of the bell tower. There’s also the symbol of St. Mark, the winged lion, and la Guistizia (Justice), representing Venice.
Saint Mark’s Campanile has played an important role in the history of Venice. It was used as a watchtower during times of war and as a lighthouse for ships entering the harbor. It has also been the site of several scientific experiments, including Galileo Galilei’s gravity studies in the late 16th century. Today, the campanile is a popular tourist attraction, and visitors can climb to the top for a panoramic view of the city and lagoon.
What Were the Bells Used For?
While they no longer ring for their initial purpose, St. Mark’s Bell Tower contains five bells, with the largest, the Marangona, ringing to signify the beginning and end of the workday.
The smallest bell, the Renghiera, announced executions that were going on in Piazza San Marco.
The Trottiera announced council meetings in Doge’s Palace for the members of the Maggior Consiglio (Great Council of Venice).
The Mezza Terza announced Senate meetings.
The Nona sounded at midday.
How to Climb St. Mark’s Bell Tower
If you plan on climbing the tower, you first need to buy tickets. You can do so online or at the tower’s base in St. Mark’s Square.
Tickets are 10€ per adult, 6€ per teenager, and free for children under five. You can also buy a bundle with tickets to St. Mark’s Basilica and the tower. If you’re planning on doing both, that will help you save some money.
Waiting times are typically 15 minutes or less, but there are skip-the-line tickets if you’re in a rush.
You can climb all 323 steps to the top of San Marco Campanile or take the elevator that runs up the tower’s center. Either way, you’re treated to one of the best views in Venice.
There’s an argument to be made that St. Mark’s Campanile is the best tower in Italy; however, it’s up against Giotto’s Tower in Florence and Asinelli Tower in Bologna. Climb all three and let us know your favorite in the comments below.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Climb St. Mark’s Campanile?
Yes, visitors can climb St. Mark’s Bell Tower for a small fee to get a stunning 360-degree view of Venice and the lagoon.
How Many Steps to the Top of the Bell Tower?
There are 323 steps leading up to the top of St. Mark’s Campanile.
What Is the Purpose of the Campanile di San Marco?
St Mark’s Bell Tower has historically served as a watchtower, lighthouse, and symbol of Venetian power. The bells were meant to notify Venetians of the time of day and important events in St. Mark’s Square.
Is St. Mark’s Bell Tower Worth It?
Absolutely! The Bell Tower is a brisk 30-second climb via elevator, providing one of the city’s best views and the lagoon. It’s also very affordable at just 10€ per adult.
Is St. Mark’s Campanile Free?
No, climbing the bell tower is not free. However, it’s only 10€ per adult, 6€ per teenager, and free for children under five years old.
Which Tower Has the Best View in Venice?
Without a doubt, St. Mark’s Bell Tower in St. Mark’s Square has the best view of Venice and the lagoon. It offers 360-degree panoramic views of the city, lagoon, and neighboring islands.
Is There an Elevator in St. Mark’s Bell Tower?
Yes, an elevator will take you to the top of St. Mark’s Bell Tower. It’s only a 30-second ride, so you’ll be at the campanile in no time.
Why Was Campanile di San Marco Built?
The original San Marco Campanile was constructed as a watchtower for foreign invaders (mainly barbarians) and fires within the city. It has since been used as a lighthouse to guide Venetian ships safely into the harbor.
How Often Does St. Mark’s Bell Tower Ring?
Today, the Marangona (the largest of the five bells) is only rung twice daily, at noon and midnight. If you want to hear the bells, you should go at midnight when the crowds die down. During midday, you likely won’t be able to hear the bells over the tourists.
St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice is a must-see for anyone who visits the floating city. The history and art of the bell tower make it a true marvel, while its stunning views provide an unforgettable experience. Have you climbed the tower? Let us know in the comments below – and take some amazing pictures along the way!