The flight of the Turk (or the Angel)

[Image of fly of turk]In the mid-1500 during Carnival time a young Turkish acrobat is said to have accomplished something unheard of in Venice. He walked on a rope, with the help of a balancing rod, from a boat moored in front of San Marco square all the way to the bellfry of the belltower (Campanile) of Saint Mark. It was an astounding act and the Venetian people were so struck by it that it became a traditional event during the annual Carnival, it was called “The flight of the Turk”. It usually took place on the last Thursday before Lent in front of a crowd composed of people, noblemen and the Doge.
In the following years the “flight” was always carried out by professional acrobats until some Arsenalotti (workmen of the naval dockyard) tried to do it. They took so much pride in the Flight that they specialized in the act.
Through the years the Flight changed and became an official ceremony divided into three steps, which the so-called Turk had to perform (also called Angel because of the wings he had to wear):

1-walk on a rope up to the top of the belltower;
2-come down performing somersaults to the loggia of the Doge’s palace where the Doge, together with foreign ambassadors and politicians, would give him flowers or cards with poems;
3-walk back up to the top of the belltower.

The Doge would often give the Turk some money instead of flowers.
It is true that the imagination sharpens the intellect.

There were numerous ways of climbing up and down the belltower, some of them were technologically complex and used double and triple ropes, winches and tricks to compensate gravity.

The show was not always the same, during the 1680 Carnival a man called Sante da Ca’ Lezze managed to climb up to the bellfry riding a horse. He then climbed up to the very top of the tower and performed somersaults. The following year, he climbed the tower on a boat, pretending he was rowing, like a real comedian and performed balancing acts in the last part of the climb.
Sometimes there were several Flights at the same time. In 1760 four men climbed the tower: the first one riding a satyr, the second on a boat, the third carried two little cannons tied to his chest and the fourth one performed such thrilling balancing acts that the crowds held their breath.
There were accidents, too. In 1759 a man named Nane Bailo, of the Arsenalotti family, fell to the ground among the horrified crowd. These accidents were the reason why the acrobat was finally dismissed in favor of a big wooden dove containing flowers and confetti to sprinkle on the onlooking crowd during its descent. 
This is how the Flight of the Turk became the Flight of the Dove.

Maurizio Vittoria