I recently read that in the early 1800s a troop of elephants was brought to the city of Venice to entertain, among others, the Emperor of Austria and his family who were visiting the city during 'carnivale'. Whilst a large naval review was underway the elephants were transported into Venice to parade around St Marks Square before being secured into nearby warehouses.
Unfortunately when the naval guns went off the elephants became frightened - and one particular young bull elephant became uncontrollable. His keeper was summoned to calm him. The elephant promptly picked him up threw him against the wall, trampled on him and killed him outright. The animal then burst through the doors of the warehouse and headed off up the jetty.
So.....during our recent visit to Venice we had to find out if the story was true, and if so, re-tread his tracks.
Finding his way blocked near the arsenal, the elephant turned about and ran down CAL DEL DOSE. We had to walk down it - and this is how it looks today.
The animal then ran out onto the Campo Della Bragora square, perhaps pausing before deciding where to run next. We surveyed the square too.
I had read that the elephant had "burst into nearby a church".................
The doors were open so we went inside to look for signs of an elephant attack!!
The elephant had apparently burst through the church doors and rampaged inside. Finally his weight shattered a tombstone in the floor and his foot went down through it and he became stuck. We searched for evidence: any carvings, signs, pictures, cracked and/or repaired tombstones. But there was nothing to be seen.
There was however an elderly lady arranging fresh flowers at the altar and I admit I was a little mortified when Mark suggested we ask her if she knew about the elephant!!!
To my surprise she told him she did know about it - but went on to say that the church we were standing in [the church of SAN ANTONIN] was NOT the church where the elephant has sought refuge. The church we were looking for was at the end of another alleyway leading off the square.
We set off again [but not before enjoying all the beautiful treasures and pictures of Saint Antonin including seeing the font where the composer VIVALDI had been christened in c. 1689] and walking down a small alleyway on the opposite side of the square we came across the church in question.
Sadly it was closed and locked up and we couldn`t go in!!!!
The story ends sadly for the elephant. Trapped in the church, soldiers were sent to fetch a naval cannon. Lining it up the first cannon ball went straight through the wall behind the elephant; the second killed the poor beast.
I did check the outer walls for evidence of cannon balls! None!
The elephant was then apparently transported to the deconsecrated church of SAN BIAISO where, after a day of bargaining, his body was sold for 800 florins to the Natural History Museum at Padova.
One hundred years later the elephant skin, reduced to a moth-eaten ruin, was hurled from a window of the museum into a courtyard where children from the neighbourhood were allowed to play with it for some time before it was sold to a local man who exhibited it until its final demise.
So this of course means I will have to return to Venice when the doors to the church are open; I'm sure there must be some evidence of the 'elephant story' to be found!
We saluted the escapades of the poor beast with an elephant-sized icecream-topped chocolate back at a café on the square!!
A la prochaine mes belles