The Winged Lion of Saint Mark
The original winged lion was an ancient bronze sculpture brought to Venice in the 12th century. Sitting atop one of two columns in Piazza San Marco, the lion eventually came to represent Saint Mark, the city’s patron saint, and has been the symbol of Venice ever since.
As the Middle Ages drew to an end, two competing powers were emerging, the Venetian Republic and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This brought forth yet another period of unrest in Friuli, when cities were forced to align with one of the two sides. In 1382, when Venetian forces threatened to occupy the entire coastline, Trieste turned to Hapsburg Austria for protection. Nevertheless, Venice went on a vast conquering spree, taking control of Udine, Pordenone, and Gorizia, as well as considerable territory beyond.
To demonstrate allegiance to their new rulers, cities often erected statues of the winged lion of Saint Mark. The following are four notable locations in Friuli where the lion makes an appearance.
Piazza della Libertà, Udine
It is no coincidence that Udine’s Piazza della Libertà bears a striking resemblance to Piazza San Marco in Venice. Along with most of Friuli and parts of Venezia Giulia, Udine was conquered by the Venetians in 1420 and remained under their rule for over 300 years. In the center of the square, the winged lion perches atop one of two columns, similar to those that defend the seaward rim of Piazza San Marco.
On one side, the Loggia del Lionello appears at first glance to be a small-scale version of Venice’s Palazzo Ducale, with its pink and white stripes and trilobed, arched windows. Lining the elevated portion of the piazza is the Porticato di San Giovanni, a long stretch of arcades in the center of which nestles Udine’s most recognizable monument, the Torre dell’Orologio (clock tower). Inspired by the zodiac signs on Venice’s famous clock, a golden sun radiates from a brilliant blue clock face. Two bronze moors strike the hour above the clock, while the winged lion makes another appearance below.
Yet a third winged lion stands guard over the Arco Bollani. Designed by the architect Palladio, this arch leads to a neat cobblestone path that winds up the hill to Udine’s castello, now a massive museum complex.
Palazzo Comunale, Venzone
The charming medieval-walled town of Venzone, situated at the base of the Carnian Alps, was one of many to be occupied by the Venetians in 1420. The Palazzo Comunale (town hall) had just finished construction a decade earlier, and its corner tower was soon adorned with the winged lion of Saint Mark. It should be noted as well that the tower bears a 24-hour clock similar to the one in Venice’s Piazza San Marco and with a central sun like the Torre dell’Orologio in Udine. The building also features several Venetian-Gothic trilobed, arched windows. Like most buildings in Venzone, the town hall was badly damaged in the earthquakes of 1976, but it was eventually reconstructed in its original style.
Palazzo dei Rettori, Muggia
The only town on the Istrian peninsula to remain within the Italian border, Muggia sports a distinct Venetian style that is punctuated by a quirky character all of its own. The central focus of town is Piazza Marconi and its two architectural landmarks: the Duomo dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo, with its striking Venetian-Gothic trilobed façade, and the Palazzo dei Rettori, currently home to Muggia’s town hall. On the orange and yellow palazzo, a stone relief of the winged lion of Saint Mark reveals a clue to Muggia’s long tradition of humor and satire. Look closely at the lion’s face—the sense of disgust is apparent as he sticks out his tongue at the town’s former rulers.
Castello di Gorizia
For four centuries, beginning in the Middle Ages, Gorizia was home to a powerful dynasty. From their hilltop castle, the Counts of Gorizia ruled a territory that extended from Tyrol to Croatia. In the early 16th century, the city was one of many occupied by the Republic of Venice. Although Gorizia was acquired by Austria’s Hapsburg monarchy after only a couple of years, a winged lion stands guard at the entrance to the fortified castle as a reminder of Venice’s brief rule.