The symbol of the winged lion is everywhere in Veneto. It’s on walls, paintings, statues, on top of poles, on flags, you name it. It’s even the symbol of the highest prize given to a film at the Venice Film Festival. It’s so common that it eventually fades into the background. But flags are visual symbols that identify and often represent pride and respect for shared ideals.
But the flag of Veneto is no ordinary symbol. Understand it, and you’ll understand something important about Veneto.
Back to the origins in Venice
The Venetian flag, known as the Gonfalone di San Marco, represents the story of the people in Veneto. Its winged lion is the symbol of the city’s patron saint, Saint Mark, and first appeared around 1200. From 1500, it appeared on flags and ceremonial banners.
The six tails, or fringes, represent the six districts, or Sestieri, of Venice. The six fringes protect the central part from the wind.
A curiosity of the original Venetian flag is that from the beginning, the Republic of Venice decided not to impose the use of a standard banner. Instead, people had the freedom to modify the flag’s characteristics according to circumstances.
Traditionally, the first flag had the Lion of San Marco on a blue background, the color of the sea. It was subsequently replaced by a red background. Some say the red represented blood, used in times of war. Others say the color was changed to make it more visible at sea.
What is true is that there are numerous variations of the same flag: most will have an open book, others a closed book, some with fringes, others without. There’s also a version where the lion holds the sword. It is said that it was used exclusively on ships and represented the symbol of the navy in wartime.
The winged lion with the open book, however, is the most common occurrence. Today it decorates the gates and buildings of Venice. An ancient bronzed statue of the winged lion also stands in the Piazza San Marco, a symbol of the Serenissima Republic of Venice, which was one of Europe’s greatest commercial and naval powers from the Middle Ages to the 16th century.
The winged lion and the flag of Veneto
The flag of the Veneto region is perhaps one of the best-known flags in all of Italy, both for its unquestionable beauty and for the enormous regard in which it’s held by the Veneti. Officially adopted in 1975 by the region and modified in 1999 with the addition of the words “Regione del Veneto.”
The main element remains the lion of San Marco, based on a 1415 painting by the artist Jacobello del Fiore. The original painting is currently on display in the museum of the Palazzo Ducale.
The background shows a stylized representation of the sea, mountains and plains of Veneto. The open book traditionally represents the emblem of the sovereignty of the region.
What makes these two flags so different is the presence of the tails, or fringes, which are not common elsewhere. The Venetian flag has six, while the flag of Veneto has seven, representing the seven provinces of Veneto: Belluno, Padua, Rovigo, Treviso, Venice, Verona, Vicenza.
So next time you are in Veneto, look up when you see a flag fluttering above you and admire the ancient symbolism.
Photos from Shutterstock