Il Volo dell'Angelo, or the Flight of the Angel, dates back to the middle of the 16th century when it involved the heart-stopping exploits of a very spirited tightrope walker. He would first walk up a rope, which had been attached from a boat moored in the bacino to the top of the bell-tower. He would walk back down a second rope to the balcony of the Palazzo Ducale (performing somersaults on the way), where he would receive flowers from the doge. He then returned to the top of the tower before making his final descent to the boat.
The spectacle came to be known as the Flight of the Angel, because the tightrope-walker wore wings as part of his act. (The campanile is, after all, crowned by a statue of the Archangel Gabriel). Sadly, all the fun came to a tragic end in 1759 when one intrepid tightrope-walker fell to his death.
Today's spectacle is a far cry from the original and amounts to little more than the descent, from the top of the campanile, of una bella Veneziana. At the stroke of noon, wingless but suspended in a safety-harness, she glided safely to the ground in a matter of moments.
The piazza was so crowded that it took me more than half an hour to make my way out. The local police, in a smart bid to help circulation, had closed off the side exits in the Procuratie Vecchie!