San Marco here, San Todaro there. They have stood for centuries on two marble and granite columns, “grey one and reddish the other”, in the small square next to the Doge’s Palace, shrouded in unresolved mysteries. One with a bronze statue in the shape of a lion with a human face probably of Assyrian origin, a trophy arrived from Constantinople with the Crusades led by Henry Dandolo in the early 1200s and in Venice remodeled and equipped with wings and Gospel, and the other with a St. Theodore stone, with his feet resting on a crocodile-shaped dragon with webbed paws and a dog’s snout.
They are the two patron saints of Venice. Only one of them is institutional today, but the other one is still named Teodoro, who becomes Todaro in Venetian. The lion is the same one hoisted there centuries ago. Of Todaro instead if you want to admire the original you have to go to the courtyard of the Doge’s Palace, where it was placed after the war, after a long dispute to leave a copy in its place. It was really battered and it hasn’t been known since it was there at the top. Scholars say that the columns arrived around 1150 with Doge Vitale Michieli II and it seems strange that they remained unattended for a long time. It is also unclear when the winged lion found its place.
The statue of what many tourists still believe to be St. George, protector of the ancient rival Genoa and both holy dragon-slaying warriors, is actually a set of statues. The head of Emperor Constantine and the bust of Hadrian in fine marble are of Roman origin, while the rest is in shabbier marble and Istrian stone.
About the two columns, the architect Giovanni Antonio Vendrasco in his “Marco e Todaro” tells us that “the rich doge Sebastiano Zani had a squeal banned with which he promised a generous prize to those who had made that work, for mechanical means”. It was around 1170 and the columns were lying in the square waiting for someone to lift them. Sansovino tells the story: “A Lombard named Nicolò Barattiero straightened them up and received an honest prize beyond which he wanted the privilege that players had the freedom to play at the foot of these columns without any penalty”. The columns were lifted by Barattiero with a stratagem, tying them with wet ropes that once dry shrunk by lifting the two boulders. In exchange, freedom of gambling was granted between the two columns and for centuries they have been the gateway and meeting point of the most varied Venetian mankind.
Location: Columns of San Marco and San Todaro