One of the most historically interesting events that occurred in San Marco Square (Piazza San Marco) in Venice was the infamous theft of the Horses of Saint Mark in 1797 during the Napoleonic era.
In 1797, Napoleon Bonaparte's army invaded Venice, leading to the downfall of the Venetian Republic, which had endured for over a thousand years. As part of the French occupation, the iconic bronze horses that once adorned the facade of the Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark's Basilica) were seized by Napoleon's forces and transported to Paris as war booty. These horses, often referred to as the "Bronze Horses of Saint Mark," were actually ancient Roman sculptures, prized for their beauty and historical significance.
For over a millennium, the Horses of Saint Mark had symbolized Venice's power and prestige. Their theft was a profound blow to the city's cultural heritage. The horses were placed on top of the triumphal arch at the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in Paris, serving as a symbol of Napoleon's conquests.
However, following Napoleon's defeat in 1815, the horses were returned to Venice and reinstated on the facade of St. Mark's Basilica. They remain there to this day, gazing out over the bustling square, serving as a testament to the resilience of Venice and its enduring cultural treasures.
The episode of the stolen horses is just one of the many dramatic events that have unfolded in San Marco Square, a place where history, art, and culture have intersected for centuries, leaving an indelible mark on the city of Venice.