Anyone who’s spent more than a day in Venice will know that time is punctuated by bells. Residents are treated to sounds issuing from various campanili at 7am, 7.30am, 9am, 12pm, 2pm, 6pm, 6.30pm, 9pm and midnight, with other timings thrown in for good measure on high days and holidays.
The most famous bell in the city, and the one that you hear tolling the witching hour at midnight, is called ‘la marangona’ and is located in the Campanile de San Marco. It’s a large bell—1.8m wide and weighing 3,625kg—which plays the musical note A (LA) and is the only bell in the campanile to have survived the collapse of 1902 intact.
The name of the bell is the feminine form of the word ‘el marangon’, which means carpenter. It got this name because, during the time of the Venetian Republic, it was rung to mark the beginning and the end of the working day for the carpenters building ships in the Venetian Arsenal.
My father used to make a joke every time he saw a pavlova: ‘Che marangona!’ he would exclaim, playing on the Italian word ‘meringone’ meaning big meringue.
The word is very different from the Italian word for carpenter, ‘falegname’ and derives from the Turkish word ‘marangoz’. It is still widely used in the Veneto and, like the English word is a common surname, usually in the plural form Marangoni. (It features as the surname of the hero Alvise Marangon in Gregory Dowling’s excellent thriller Ascension, which you all must read.)
So, next time you’re in Venice at midnight, listen out for the big one!