If Oxford (England) is the “city of dreaming spires”, then Venice (Italy) must surely be the “city of eternal towers”!
Wherever you look, their slender silhouettes grace the Venetian skies and have done for centuries. True, some are leaning rather precariously, like Santo Stefano or San Giorgio dei Greci; others have managed to remain perpendicular – just about; and some, having fallen down completely, are now just stumps and have been turned into gift shops or whatever, like Santa Maria del Giglio. Even the tower in St Mark’s Square had to be rebuilt after it collapsed in 1902! But they are an integral part of Venice, and will always be so.
However, these elegant structures are all BELL towers (Campanile). Venice’s only CLOCK tower (Torre dell’Orologio) is the striking (forgive the pun!) building to the left of the Basilica in St Mark’s Square. (It’s well worth doing the tour – tickets from the Museo Correr at the other end of the Square.) You can read all about its history in Vols 1 and 3 of my books, but briefly, it was built between 1496-1499 and over the centuries has undergone many restorations, some quite controversial. It works on a complicated weights and pulleys system with a folio escapement (didn’t understand much of that part, I’m afraid!). The two bronze figures on top who strike the bell hourly were originally called “the giants” (they may in fact have been shepherds) but were later nicknamed “I Mori” (The Moors) because of their dark patina.
And so to James Bond (Roger Moore this time!)! One of this Clock Tower’s claims to fame came in 1979 during the filming of Moonraker. The Moors are instantly recognizable in the opening shot of Venice, but that is not the end of the Clock Tower’s appearance! After an hilarious chase around the canals, Bond is finally cornered in a warehouse (supposedly below our Clock Tower) by Hugo Drax’s henchman, Chang. The ensuing fight ends up behind the clock face, when Bond unceremoniously hurls Chang through it onto the orchestra and tenor below (which should really be outside the Grancaffee Quadri, opposite Florian’s). The set is very realistic and puts Venice on the film location map yet again. What better backdrop could there be?
Come back next month and find out all about “Young Jack” and my emotional discovery on the cemetery island of San Michele. Till then, ciao!