This is the imposing gothic Basilica of San Giovanni e Paolo, or of San Zanipolo as the Venetians call it unifying the two names. If you stand in front of the elegant entrance, to the left of the door is a white marble sarcophagus, with carvings of two angels and doves with crosses on them. This was dedicated to an early Doge called Jacopo Tiepolo, who in a dream claimed he saw two angels accompanied by doves floating above a field covered in white roses, while a voice from above told him that was where he must build a church. He was the first of 21 Doges in Venice’s history who chose to be buried here, which is why San Giovanni e Paolo is often called the Pantheon of the Doges.
Although Jacopo Tiepolo’s dream might be more legend than truth, the church was built, and it might not seem like much nowadays, but at the time this whole area, as much of the city generally, was still swamp-like, muddy, dirty and rather smelly. Not ideal to build such a large, heavy and simply impressive building as this.
Monumento a Bartolomeo Colleoni
In front of the Church of San Giovanni e Paolo you’ll find the bronze monument dedicated to a general called Bartolomeo Colleoni as he rides proudly on his horse. It was sculpted by a Florentine man known as Verrocchio, master of the young Leonardo da Vinci. It is the first statue in history of a horse with one leg raised; you must consider how difficult it must have been to find the right proportions to keep such a heavy weight standing on only three legs.
Famously, Colleoni had fought many battles on behalf of the Venetians, who granted him a place of burial anywhere he wished; he requested his statue be placed in front of San Marco. Though he did not specify, there was no doubt he meant the Basilica of St.Mark’s in the famous Piazza, but the Venetian State, always adverse to blatant individual idolization, decided to misunderstand his intention, and place it here, since the building next to the church was at the time the Scuola Grande di San Marco. They did in fact do what he had asked, even if not what he had intended.
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