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Thursday, 04 August 2016 08:46

Hidden Venice. San Polo belltower and its bizzare sculptures

The church of San Polo is dedicated to Saint Paul (the Apostle), which became San Polo in Venetian dialect. ​ San Polo was founded in the 9th century, but largely rebuilt in the 15th century. In spite of later restorations, it has retained its wooden ship's-keel ceiling, one of only three in Venice.The church is most famous for Giandomenico Tiepolo's delightful paintings of the Stations of the Cross (1747-49), which are to be found in the Oratory of the Crucifix. At the base of its campanile (1362) crouch two 12th century stone lions, rare examples of Romanesque carving to have survived in Venice.  ​

The bell tower of the san Polo church is a typical example of a medieval Venetian bell tower with a cone spire; the front door is surmounted by two special sculptures in a Romanesque style: a lion grasping a snake and another lion holding with the front legs a human head. Medieval ecclesiastical buildings were often decorated with monsters or wild animals, often to emphasize the difference between the outside of the church, where there was bad, and the interior, the house of God.

Popular tradition has given the two figures, however, a very different meaning, linked to the history of Venice. The snake caught between the claws of one of the lions represents the conspiracy of Tiepolo Baiamonte, "crushed" by the Council of Ten. In 1310 Baiamonte Tiepolo took charge of a conspiracy of young Venetian nobles to overthrow the government of the Republic of Venice, but on that occasion he was discovered and, to ensure the internal security of the state, the Council of Ten was created, which sadly became famous for its ruthlessness in eliminating any possible enemy of Venice.

The human head on the other lion could be Bussone Francis, Count of Carmagnola, captain of the Venetian troops in the war against Milan (1425). In 1432 the Venetian Senate, however, accused him of treason and had him beheaded.


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san polo belltower

san polo belltower


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