Guidebook Look out for the lions of St Mark, they're everywhere

Landmarks & icons

Look out for the lions of St Mark, they're everywhere

The proud image of the lion is a ubiquitous feature of Venice, writes Myra Robinson in Italy magazine, and can be found “gazing down from buildings, looking out from the keystone of an archway, or standing on fluted columns … the more you look, the more you see: no one knows how many there are.” Lions, and the power and strength they represent, “were so important to the Venetians that centuries ago the nobility used to keep them captive in their gardens, and for a time the official state lion lived in a golden cage in the Piazza San Marco.” And although captive lions were forbidden from Venice, the lion image appears in paintings, carvings, tapestries and frescoes.

Many lions have lions have arrived in Venice “from distant lands carrying with them stories that remained hidden for centuries,” observes When in Venice.  The Venetian lion appears in two distinct forms. One is as a winged animal resting on water, to symbolise dominance over the seas, holding St. Mark’s Gospel under a front paw.  

Everyone who visits Venice can’t help but notice the city’s special relationship with lions — “lions are everywhere: on pedestals, on walls, on paintings, inside Venice’ museums and churches, and even on door bells of apartment buildings,” notes Glass of Venice. The lion is the symbol of St Mark the Evangelist, the patron St of Venice, explains A Blog About Venice.    

And Venice’s lions appear in many guises. You could spend an entire break tracking down representations of the lion. Often coupled with other symbols, they usually sport wings to symbolise both power and elevation. “There are even crab lions with wings displayed as claws,” observes Italian Notes. Look for them in St Mark’s Square (the most famous of the standing lions is to be found topping one of the two granite columns), the Doge’s Palace (this bronze sculpture possibly dates back to as far as the 4th century BC), Arsenale (to the left side of the gate, sits a proud lion with long inscriptions on its two sides), and Rialto Market (flags sporting the Venetian lion can be spotted from balconies across the city).

Landmarks & icons
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