The mascherone (grotesque face) guarding the bell tower of Santa Maria Formosa isn't the only one in Venice; there are several others including this goofy guy protecting the campanile of the church of Santa Margherita. The church is deconsecrated and the bell tower is half of what it used to be, but the campo itself is thriving.
At one time, this was one of the most opulent Byzantine churches in the city. Consecrated in 853, the church was decorated with mosaics and had an apse covered in gold and a huge dome supported by four enormous Greek marble columns. The Byzantine church survived for eight centuries and was then rebuilt in 1687. The campanile was built in 1305 and the scary monster face added when the church was rebuilt.
The best story about this church concerns a hermit nun named Bisina who in 1330, moved into a tiny cell in the bell tower and only came out once a year, on Ascension Day, to go to Mass in the Basilica di San Marco. The rest of the year, she would climb through a tiny passage in the roof of Santa Margherita and observe Mass from up in the dome.
In the early 19th century, the church was suppressed and deconsecrated. The bell tower, which had became dangerously unstable, was cut in half, leaving 46 feet in place. This is the most famous of the eight partial towers in Venice.
After the church was closed, it became a tobacco factory and then a warehouse for storing marble from other suppressed churches. In 1882, it became a Protestant evangelical church for a while and then, in the 20th century, it was an artist’s studio and then a cinema. In the early 1990’s, it became an auditorium/lecture hall for the University of Venice at Ca’ Foscari.
Also known as Margaret the Virgin, she's famous for surviving being eaten by a dragon.
A 15th century statue of her standing with the dragon now guards the campo from on high but was originally inside the church. See second photo above and the one below. The dragon does not look very scary!
Funny quote from JG Links (Venice for Pleasure):
"High up on the house next to the campanile is a statue of S. Margherita herself; the dragon beneath her is the devil in disguise and it is a relief to know that he devoured her but then burst asunder and vanished, leaving Margherita unhurt. It must have been a nasty moment though. This came originally from the church and many other relics from it have been embedded in the campanile and the building, which is worth looking at.”
Lots of other mascheroni are embedded all over the church:
Listed as one of the "Great Public Spaces" on the Project for Public Spaces website.
In Venice and Its Lagoon, Lorenzetti writes that this was “one of the most picturesque and characteristic centres of the life of the working classes…the campo was enlarged and turned into its present shape at the end of the XIX century when the many canals that led into it were filled in…”