A group of explorers is hoping to solve one of the Venice’s most captivating mysteries – the destiny of a giant triumphal column that is believed to have disappeared around 1000 years ago. The huge granite column was one of three that were delivered to Venice by boat in 1172 from Constantinople and were a gift from the Byzantine Empire in recognition of Venice’s help in the Second Crusade.
But according to historic data, during the heavy transferring process from the boat to dry land, one of the pillars toppled overboard and sank beneath the waves of the Venetian Lagoon. The rest two columns that survived were eventually erected and still can be admired at the end of St. Mark’s Square, which Napoleon described as “the drawing room of Europe”.
There is a winged lion on top of one of the columns which serves as a symbol of Venice, while on the other one you can see the statue of St Theodore, who used to be once the city’s patron saint until being supplanted by St. Mark. The statue is holding a spear and a crocodile at his feet – a dragon which he said to have conquered.
Nowadays scientists are planning to start searchers for the missing third column, which if ever found could take a place between the two existing columns. Scientists believe it lies on the lagoon floor, just few hundred yards from the Mark’s Square.
“If the lagoon floor had been muddy, the column would have sunk without trace and would be impossible to recover,” said Roberto Padoan, a diver and mariner who leads the project. “But in the area in front of St Mark’s the lagoon floor is made of clay. I’m convinced the column is down there.”
According to the diver the column should rest at the depth of 30 feet under the water. Legend says the top of the statue was decorated with a statue of a nobleman wearing a “corno ducale” or so called doge’s cap, a tribute to Venice’s rulers.
The search is supposed to start this week, as Venice’s cultural heritage department is expected to give their approve. The column will be detected by the installed 20 electronic sensors on the canal banks which will emit sonar waves. The whole area of search is relatively small – it is just a stretch of water between the Marciana Library and the Ponte della Paglia. “Finding the column would be an incredible discovery,” Mr Padoan told La Repubblica newspaper. “If we manage it, we’d have to do everything possible to raise it from the lagoon.”
The whole operation will cost a lot, as it will have to involve barges, cranes and steel cables, so researchers are trying to find financial support from private sponsors. The whole operation would also affect a stretch of the canal which is currently used by gondolas and taxis.
The story of the lost column is one of Venice’s oldest legends, but is almost certainly based on fact, a historian said.
“It is cited by all the sources, including the very oldest, which were written shortly after the disembarkation of the columns in 1172,” said Alberto Toso Fei, an author and journalist.
“What is not possible to know with any certainty is whether the third column was as large as the other and whether it, like them, had a symbol of Venice on top. And we don’t know from the sources if it sank near St Mark’s or in another part of the lagoon. But it wouldn’t surprise me if it really is there, lying under the mud.”