July 14, 1902, 9.55 a.m.—The Campanile in St Mark’s Square collapsed.

Jul 14 | A Venetian Almanac

Reuter’s terse communiqué read as follows:

The Campanile of St. Mark’s Cathedral, 98 metres high (about 318 feet), has just fallen down on to the Piazza. It collapsed where it stood, and is now a heap of ruins. The cathedral and the Doge’s Palace are quite safe. Only a corner of the royal palace is damaged. It is believed, but it is not certain, that there has been no loss of life. A cordon of troops is keeping the Piazza clear.

The only casualty was in fact the sacristan’s cat, who had refused to leave the building (the disaster had threatened for some days).

This is Horatio Brown’s account, from ‘In and Around Venice’ (1905):

“… by Monday morning early … it was evident that the catastrophe could not be averted. Dust began to pour out of the widening crack, and bricks to fall. A block of Istrian stone crashed down from the bell-chamber, then a column from the same site.

At 9.47 the ominous fissure opened, the face of the Campanile towards the church bulged out, the angel on top and the pyramid below it swayed once or twice, and threatened to crush either the Sansovino’s Library or the Basilica of San Marco in their fall, then the whole colossus subsided gently, almost noiselessly, upon itself, as it were in a curtsey, the ruined brick and mortar spread out in a pyramidal heap, a dense column of white powder rose from the Piazza, and the Campanile of San Marco was no more.”

Some Venetians claimed that St. Mark’s Square looked better without the tower, and others thought it was foolish to spend taxpayers’ money on a replacement. In the end, donations from outside Venice covered most of the expense, and a rebuilt Campanile was christened on April 25th 1912, exactly 1000 years after the foundations of the original structure had been laid, confirming what the Mayor of Venice had said when the Campanile collapsed, ‘com’era, dov’era’, as it was, where it was.

The very same words were used again in 1996, by the then Mayor Massimo Cacciari, when the Fenice Theatre burned down, com’era, dov’era’.

E così fu.