The Old Woman with a Mortar

How to thwart a revolt

Signora Rossi tossing her mortar

It was a dark and stormy night, 15 June 1310, and the atmosphere was tense with conspiracy. No one was more displeased with the Serrata of the Maggior Consiglio than the noblemen who were shut out, and under the banner of Baiamonte Tiepolo they rode through the Mercerie towards Piazza San Marco intending to overthrow the Republic.

Giustina Rossi, the old woman who lived over the Sottoportego del Nero Cappello, was unable to sleep, and looked out of her window, only to see Baiamonte’s insurgent army approaching underneath. Thinking quickly, she prised a stone from her windowsill and dropped it, scoring a direct hit on the skull of the standard-bearer. In the rain and thunder, the army panicked and retreated in confusion, failing to meet the other rebel contingent in the piazza.

Thanks to Signora Rossi’s aim, the revolt was foiled, and the grateful Signori granted the reward she requested: the right to fly the banner of St Mark from her window on every feast day – and a promise never to raise her rent.

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