Saint Mark's Bell Tower is part of the Basilica di San Marco and stands in the Piazza di San Marco. The tower was originally constructed as a lighthouse and then a watch tower in the 9th century, over the years it underwent several transformations and was rebuilt a number of times from the 12th to 14th century. In 1513 Giorgio Spavento and Bartolome Bon restored the tower following earthquake damage. However it collapsed in 1902 and was reconstructed and reopened in 1912 to resemble the 1513 version of the tower. The tower is a symmetrically square brick structure reaching a height of almost 100 meters and at the top the belfry houses 5 bells. Each bell had a specific function – the Mezza Terza Bell announced the Senate; the Nona Bell announced midday; the biggest bell, the Marangona Bell, announced the beginning and end of the work day; the Trottiera announced council meetings and the smallest bell, the Renghiera Bell announced executions. Above the belfry are a gold-leaf pyramid-shaped spire and a gilded statue of the Angel Gabriel. For those arriving in Venice from the sea the gold angel would be the first sight of Venice. At the foot of the tower is a balcony, the Sansovino Loggia.
The Sansovino balcony was constructed in the early 1500s and in 1569 became a sentry post for dockyard workers when the Upper Council was in session. There are three arches separated by classic columns and topped with allegorical marble reliefs created by Sansovino's pupils. Four niches between the columns hold bronze statues and in front of the three arched façade is an elegant balustrade. In 1912 the Sansovino balcony was rebuilt together with the rest of the tower.
Galileo used the tower to observe the stars and visitors today can enjoy the stunning views from the observatory at the top of the tower by taking the elevator and not the stairs as Galileo would have done!
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