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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The collapse of the Bell Tower of Venice

The 323-foot (98.6-meter) campanile of St. Mark’s dates back to the 9th century, but it had to be rebuild 1903. On July 1902 the north wall of the tower began to show signs of a dangerous crack that in the following days continued to grow. 



On Monday, July 14, around 9:47am, the campanile collapsed completely with disbelief of the Venetians in the square. Although it buried the Basilica’s balcony in rubble, fortunately, the church itself was saved. Remarkably, no one was killed, except for the caretaker’s cat. The same evening, of the collapse, the communal council approved over 500,000 Lire for the reconstruction of the campanile. It was decided to rebuild the tower exactly as it was, with some internal reinforcement to prevent future collapse. The rebuild of St. Mark’s Campanile started on July 22nd, 1902 and lasted until March 6, 1912. The new campanile was inaugurated on April 25, 1912, on the occasion of Saint Mark’s feast day, exactly 1000 years after the foundations of the original building had allegedly been laid. It was a sad piece of Venetian history that to this day is talked about in Venice, due some controversial dispute about the reasons why the tower collapsed.

St. Mark’s Campanile has a very long history of accidents, before its’ collapse. The towers first run in with mother nature occurred on June 7th, 1388 when it was struck by lightning. Then on October 24th, 1403 the upper portion of the tower was burned after fires lit for a celebration got out of hand. After its reconstruction, St. Mark’s campanile suffered damage from an earthquake in 1511. In the next 500 years, the tower would be struck by lightning and partially burned a total of seven more times. The most damaging of these lightning strikes occurred in 1745 and resulted in three deaths and a large crack running from near the top of the tower down to the 5th window. Finally in 1776, a conductor was installed on the tower rendering it safe from further damage due to lightning strikes.

According to eye witnesses, the first sign of problems with the tower appeared a few days before the collapse. Early in the morning on the 14th when a large crack formed near the northeast top corner of the Loggia Sansovino (the structure at the bottom of the tower) and rose diagonally across the main corner buttress of the tower. Just before the collapse, the sound of falling stones within the bell chamber warned the people in or near the tower to flee, so that no life was lost by the accident.” 

The exact cause of the collapse is unknown, but there are a multitude of probable factors that led to its collapse. First and foremost, the tower’s original foundation “was built on a platform of two layers of oak beams, crossed, which platform itself rests on a bed of clay, into which piles of white poplar were driven.” [5] This foundation was only intended to support the weight of the lower, more solid portion of the tower and was therefore not adequate to support extra weight when the tower was expanded upwards. Experts also believe that the foundation could have been negatively affected by the dredging of the Grand Canal and even more so by the frequent flooding of St. Mark’s square. Other causes for the towers collapse are attributed to its extreme old age and long history of damage from lightning strikes, fires, and earthquakes as mentioned above. All of these disasters took a major toll on the structural integrity of the foundation, internal structure, and exterior masonry of the tower. St. Mark’s Campanile is also believed to have been repeatedly weakened by its constant restorations and renovations throughout its long history. Different materials and methods of construction were used in each successive attempt to mend the tower. There is also theory that all this reconstruction may have took the tower out of balance and weaken it.

The new tower would differ only in terms of its structural support. The new design would replace the foundation beams with cement and iron, and the frame would consist of a large iron framework with iron clamps fastened into the masonry. 

From Venice With Love,
Giada
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