Venice for Visitors - Home

Pigeons of Venice

Pigeon and friend - St. Mark's Square - Venice, Italy

ABOVE: A pigeon and friend in the Piazza San Marco before grain vendors were banned.

Pigeons once rivaled cats as the traditional, if unofficial, mascots of Venice. In A Venetian Bestiary, Jan Morris wrote:

"The pigeon is, if not actually sacred, at least highly respected in Venice. You will never be offered him roasted in a Venetian restaurant. On the contrary, sometimes invalid pigeons, having lost a leg perhaps in a more than usually unseemly scramble for peanuts, become known individually to the waiters at the Piazza caf�s, and are thereafter privileged for life, allowed to preen themselves on unoccupied tables, and fed wonderfully sustaining morsels of toasted sandwich. Pigeons can get away with almost anything in Venice, and sometimes you will see one, all puffed up with pride, swaggering into the narthex of the Basilica San Marco itself."

Morris added that the city fed the pigeons for many years until an insurance company took on the job as an advertising gimmick in the 1950s. Each day, a company employee would strew corn about St. Mark's Square until the birds descended en masse:

"Only for a second or two did the insurance company get its money's worth: for there was just enough time to see, before the doves destroyed the pattern, that the maize had been poured on the ground in the shape of two huge letters--A.G., for Assicurazioni Generali."

In Venice: A Literary Companion, Ian Littlewood explained the origins of the Piazza San Marco's pigeon colony:

Pigeons - Piazza San Marco - Venice"According to tradition, it was from the gallery [of the Basilica] where we are standing that the original pigeons were released on Palm Sunday, weighted by pieces of paper tied to their legs. Most of them ended up on the dinner table as part of the Doge's Easter largesse to the populace, but the rugged survivors were felt to have earned St. Mark's protection. So year by year a few more pigeons found refuge among the domes on the basilica. They have since grown more numerous, and the enthusiasm of most tourists for the birds is short-lived, but as the average visitor now spends less than twenty-four hours in the city they still have plenty of friends."

Next page: Fines for feeding


In this article: