Venice and St Mark are so intwined that the saint’s image of a winged lion is just as likely to be thought of as emblematic of the city.
It wasn’t always so. Prior to the Venetian raid which supposedly brought the relics of St Mark to Venice in the late 9th Century, the patron saint was St Theodore, but as his status was trumped by the apostle he lost that prominence. I’d never heard of a saint of this name (though lets face it, in the realms of catholicism there’s a saint for most names) so I was surprised to learn that there may have been two; St Theodore of Amasea and St Theodore Stratelates. What’s more it’s by no means certain which was the Venetian choice!
The confusion is continued by the imagery of St Theo that can be found in the city. Within the Basilica San Marco (which subsumed the original church of St Theodore) there are several mosaic representations which don’t show him in military dress (suggesting Stratelates, as Amasea was a recruit in the Roman Army). Step outside St Mark’s and turn to the Piazetta and you see a very different image. The two columns are topped by representations of St Mark (the lion) and St Theodore (a soldier standing victorious over a slain beast).
The columns were erected in the 12th Century, but Theodore wasn’t in place for another couple of centuries, and in fact the present statue comes another 200 years after that; a statue comprised of fragments of other works joined to represent the saint. Unfortunately the defeat of a dragon that is part of Theodore’s legend is here represented by a crocodile! Perhaps it’s a third Theodore variant; St Theodore Dundee.
Hotelier and TV presenter Alex Polizzi has recently revealed to the world her take on Secret Italy, a guide to those places that are less obvious destinations, an opportunity to use her network to reveal some of the unseen sights of the tourist traps, and some hints as to how to get the most out of those cities which appear to have no secrets left.
Naturally she went to Venice; a regular haunt in her childhood as her Grandmother was Venetian. One of her secrets was being allowed into the most expensive room in the 5 star Bauer hotel as preferred by Charles & Camilla apparently. Naturally the room was everything you’d expect in a Palazzo, but there was a surprise to come as Alex eyed the complimentary bathroom toiletries. These are all made by hand exclusively for the hotel… by inmates at the nearby women’s prison.
Less surprising was Alex’s tip of getting up early to beat the crowds to the busy spots.
Afraid I was ahead of you there Alex, and though the Piazza San Marco wasn’t quite empty, if there’s freedom to run behind the colonnades it’s quiet enough.
In the 15th Century, many of the great cities of Europe constructed large clocks whose mechanisms, in addition to telling the time, indicated phases of the moon, the astrological zodiac, and entertained through the use of moving figures that enacted some morality tale or biblical event. Of the examples I’ve seen on my travels the crowds that congregate on the hour to watch the movement of the clock in Prague were the most impressive. By comparison, the clock in Piazza San Marco gets little attention.
It’s very decorative, and the blue face with golden details is certainly eye-catching, but people look up, take a picture or two and then move on, whether due to the lack of drama (no moving figures here) or the surfeit of alternative visual delights on offer I don’t know.
There are moving figures; two large bronze men (possibly Cain & Abel) on the roof strike the bell every hour, but for many in the square below the angle prevents a clear view. Never mind, there’s the rotating procession of the Magi coming to worship the figures of Jesus and Mary above the clock face. They appear every Epiphany (the festival which commemorates their visit) and Ascension (which has no logical basis at all). Twice a year. That’s it!
I’m reminded of the old joke about a broken clock being accurate twice a day.
If you want to photograph St Mark’s square with the sun lighting up the campanile and basilica then you have to wait until the afternoon for the sun to get into position. Trouble is that by then there are hundreds of others getting into position then too; setting up their selfies with the same background, chasing the pigeons, comparing the prices at Florian and Quadri, and just generally milling around.
In an attempt to ameliorate this problem I decided to try shooting with a “stopper” filter, effectively placing a piece of glass so dark as to be virtually opaque between the lens and scene before me. This has the effect of necessitating long exposures to get enough light into the camera to make a decent image, long exposures in which moving objects fail to register but buildings and fixtures do.
That’s the theory anyway. Some people are more mobile than others and those who stop to chat or just to stand and stare will remain, or blur slightly reflecting their eventual departure. Photographically they become ghostlike.
I shot a number of exposures from the corner of the Piazza as the random effects of the people couldn’t be predicted, and the environment is changing (clouds move, shadows shift) from shot to shot when each exposure takes 30 seconds or so.
Some inevitably worked better than others; this was my favourite.
Even when it’s cooler. Even when it’s raining. They flock to St Marks.
Tourists, pigeons, photographers.
Riva degli Schiavoni is a busy thoroughfare. Facing the Bacino San Marco, it is home to a number of 4 and 5 star hotels, one of the vaporetto stops nearest St Marks, the disembarkation jetties of a number of charter cruise companies, and the moorings of the superyachts that visit the city. Add in the to and fro of gondola and water taxi passengers, and it’s not everyone’s idea of a spot to relax.
But if the will is there…
I’ve written here about the art that is on display on Caffe Florian, and here about the visitors from the east who are commonly encountered in the city, so it should come as no surprise to find a link between the two. Passing Florian I spotted this mounted on the rear wall of one of the small salons, though the cyrillic script didn’t register until later. Forging artistic links or commercial good sense?