Monday, July 13, 2009

The Face of Evil

The city of Venice, Italy is a fabulous city of great beauty, but at the Hall of the Compass (Sala della Bussola), this structure in the wall is called the "mouth for secret accusations." During the history of the Venetian Republic, a single, anonymous accusation slipped into the open mouth of this imperious face, could lead to an arrest and imprisonment in the Doge's Palace jails. Trials were held in secret and attended only by The Council of Ten (Consiglio dei dieci), who voted on guilt or innocence. Only written statements from the accuser and the accused were read and the tribunal voted. Supposedly false accusations resulted in the accuser receiving the punishment for the crime. If it was an anonymous accusation, how was that enforced?

This is Justice? When I viewed the structure with slots in the wall and heard its history, it gave me chills to look at the carving and wonder how many lives had been destroyed in power struggles of the powerful Republic of Venice (late seventh century until the late eighteenth century). It's not surprising that Napoleon closed them, and was his methods an improvement?

It was the longest republican type system of government, but one has to wonder how far we've come in systems of justice. Even today, a prisoner can testify against another person and help send them to prison in exchange for leniency in his own case. Rewards are offered for anonymous information about crimes in today's systems of justice. The eternal truth seeking. Good luck with that, Diogenes (412 BC-323 BC).

From the Doge's Palace, there is another chilling structure that echoes with human tragedies. The Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri), is a passage built in the 17th century that links the Doge's Palace jails with the newer prisons. That bridge was crossed by offenders on their way to prison and possibly execution. It has openings with a last view of the Grand Canal and freedom. I had to wonder if anyone was ever exonerated from the charges. Did accusation automatically equal conviction?


  1. Fascinating! I hope to visit Venice soon. I think it will be next year's trip. The idea that someone could slip a piece of paper in that gruesome mouth and end your reality is beyond frightening!

  2. Hi Nancy. Thanks for commenting. It was an unforgettable feature of Venice. I think of it every time I hear another wild accusation in today's news. It is the reason I am fascinated with the new TV series called Lie to Me.

    I enjoyed your post about the construction project. It must be frustrating.