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Lion on Column, PIazzetta San Marco, Venice
Leone Marciano, Column in the Piazzetta San Marco
Atop one of the two granite columns in the Piazzetta di San Marco stands a huge, bronze, winged lion, its front paws resting on an open book. 

Although it is supposed to represent a leone marciano, symbol of Saint Mark, patron saint of Venice, this lion probably started life as a chimera (a hybrid creature, part lion, part goat, part snake) and came here from the Levant in the form of plunder. 

Its origin is still hotly debated (Ancient Roman, Indian, Chinese, Assyrian, Persian, Sassanid), as its age. However, it is clear that it dates back to a time well before the birth of either Saint Mark or the Venetian Republic. 
Lion on Column, PIazzetta San Marco, Venice
Leone Marciano, Column in the Piazzetta San Marco
We do not know when the lion was first placed on the column, which was erected in 1172. It appears in the records for the first time in 1293. After Napoleon's conquest of the Venetian Republic in 1797 the lion was whisked off to Paris as one of the spoils of war. On its return in 1815, it was dropped and broke into pieces. It was restored by Bartolomeo Ferrari, who added a new pair of wings and a new book. 

The book would normally be inscribed with the famous words Pax Tibi Marce Evangelista Meus. However, I don't imagine that the creator of the original book, or its copy, went to the trouble of adding words which would only be 'read' by the pigeons!  

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