The Campanile - the bell-tower of St. Mark's
Venice's most commanding landmark, the Campanile di San Marco, stands just opposite St. Mark's Basilica. The bell-tower of the basilica is the tallest building in Venice, at 99 metres, and happily it's open to the public who can enjoy the superb views over the city.
The tower crumbled to the ground in 1902: a not uncommon fate for tall Venetian buildings, which are mostly very old and built on foundations of wood and mud. No-one was killed apart from a cat, and a few years later a replica was completed with that typical Italian philosophy: com'era, dov'era: as it was, where it was. The original version dated back to the ninth century; the present appearance copies a later sixteenth-century design. On the basilica's website (see our links panel on the right) there's a great picture of the collapsed masonry in St. Mark's Square.
There are usually queues to ascend the campanile. These aren't generally too long, but if you're in a hurry (or want to save money), try visiting the campanile of San Giorgio Maggiore instead. It's not as high but it still has views, is less busy, and costs less.
Before you enter, spare some attention for the Loggetta ('little loggia') at the foot of the tower. This Renaissance meeting-place (1538-1545) was designed by Sansovino as a decorative addition to the splendours of St. Mark's Square.
Entrance to the campanile costs €6, and opening hours are unusually long. A lift takes you to the top of the tower, where you can admire and photograph the views through safety grilles. There's a useful cloakroom by the ticket office, and a desk where you can hire audio-guides.
Try to pick a clear day for your visit: conditions around Venice are frequently hazy but on a good day you can see as far as the Dolomites: in winter and spring when there's snow on the mountains, the view is particularly impressive. Venice below looks ridiculously small, clustered higgledy-piggedy on its islets. You should be able to pick out the road and rail bridges over the lagoon, the Lido and the sea beyond, the entrance to the Grand Canal, the Church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo towering over its surroundings, and many other landmarks. After navigating through Venice's narrow lanes and tall buildings, you'll find this gives you a welcome bird's eye view of the town's geography.
Opening hours: October-March 9:45am-4pm; April-June 9:30am-5pm; July-September 9:45am-8pm. These times may be subject to variation, but the latest details will be displayed outside the entrance.
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