Venice is a city of canals. And when you’ve got canals, you’ve got bridges. The most famous Venetian bridge, of course, is the Rialto Bridge, which has a long, storied history. It’s also just stunningly gorgeous.
As I mentioned in my previous Venice post, we visited the floating city in the first week of January 2002, which resulted in thinner crowds and better views. That doesn’t mean the bridge wasn’t bustling with tourists, but it was easier to walk along and take in the different shops that lined the bridge. I was lured into a stationery shop where I bought a beautiful letter opener. From a friend’s relatively recent visit, it seems that that shop may still be there.
While looking up some of the bridge’s history, I came across various facts and trivia bits that I thought were pretty interesting and thought I’d share them. So here goes, four fun facts about the Rialto Bridge in Venice.
Age and Beauty
The Rialto is the oldest of the four bridges that span the Grand Canal. The earliest form of bridge in that spot was built in 1181, although it was only a floating pontoon bridge.
Ups and Downs
By 1255, as the Rialto Market grew in importance, a more permanent wooden bridge was built. Unfortunately, over the centuries, it had its ups and downs, having to be rebuilt from time to time. It was partially burned during a revolt in 1310. It also collapsed a couple of times. In 1444, a wedding was being held for the Marquis Ferrara. As the wedding crowd took to the bridge to watch a passing boat parade, the bridge collapsed. It was rebuilt, but collapsed once again in 1524.
Marble and Michelangelo
Building the bridge in stone had been discussed as early as 1503, but it took most of the century to finally decide on a plan. Even some great artists and architects like Palladio and Michelangelo submitted ideas, but the final winner was Antonio da Ponte, who finally finished construction in 1591 after working on it for three years. The marble bridge follows the original wooden design fairly closely, with two inclined ramps leading up to a central portico. It’s single span arch and marble material had people placing bets on it collapsing, but it’s still standing!
Probably the second most famous bridge in Venice is the Bridge of Sighs, which connected the prison to the interrogation room in the Doge’s palace. The designer of the Bridge of Sighs was Antonio Contino, who was the nephew of Antonio da Ponte, the designer of the Rialto Bridge.
The Rialto was built across the narrowest stretch of the Grand Canal. It ended up connecting the districts of San Marco and San Polo. Marco and Polo. Marco Polo. Venetian explorer and the name of a popular water tag game. No one knows the origins of the name of the water tag game. Me? I like to imagine people in the two districts standing at each end of the bridge, shouting out their district’s name in a show of civic pride. Which district is better? Marco! Polo! Perhaps add in a bit of drunken rowdiness and someone ends up falling into the canal, still shouting their district’s name.
I particularly like the couple in the photo above seated on the steps down by the canal.
And one last view from the back of the shops on the bridge …