Venice is a city of winding canals and breathtaking bridges such as the stone-arched Rialto Bridge. It curves up over the narrowest part of the Grand Canal, connecting the districts of San Marco and San Polo. It’s the oldest bridge on the main canal and was built in 1181. However, it was rebuilt between 1588 and 1591 to give the locals easier access to Rialto. It’s one of the most visited bridges in the city and renowned for its architectural style that’s reminiscent of the Renaissance era. You can take a gondola out to the bridge to get up close to its exterior and walk across it to explore both districts and shops on either end. Here are a few things you should know about Rialto Bridge if you’re planning to visit Venice.
History of the bridge
The bridge you see today is far from the original structure that was built as a pontoon bridge by Nicolo Barattieri in 1181. Back then, it was given the name ‘Ponte della Moneta’ after the mint that stood proudly at the entrance. Having the bridge in place helped to bring more people to the area, and it wasn’t long before traffic increased too. In 1255 the bridge was replaced by a stronger, wooden bridge. The wooden upgrade was made from two ramps that would part in the middle to allow tall ships to pass through.
In 1310 the Rialto Bridge was rebuilt following fire damage during the revolt. Then, during an exciting boat parade, the bridge collapsed in 1444. It’s thought that the weight of the crowd standing to catch a good view of the parade is what caused the initial collapse, but, the structure caved in again in 1524. Finally, Antonio da Ponte, designed and built the stone bridge you’ll see in Venice today.
The structure of the Rialto Bridge
With its stylish design and stone arch, the Rialto Bridge oozes elegance and romance. It’s become quite a famous bridge in Venice. You’ll see lots of tourists snapping pictures of it from every angle possible. The bridge has three walkways and a lot of steps, which might make it difficult to cross if you’ve got a wheelchair or a pram. From the top centre of the bridge you can look out at the views of the canal and surrounding shops. At sunset you’ll catch a romantic view of the dreamy canals and sleepy city of Venice; worth sharing with someone special.
How to reach the bridge
You can access the bridge from the train station or the Piazzale Roma. Keep an eye out for ‘Rialto’ signs and just follow the trail. If you want to give your feet a break, hop on a water bus. The boat will take you to the bridge via the route between Santa Lucia Station and St. Mark’s Square, or, you can enjoy a gondola ride and pass underneath the bridge at a slower pace.
Legends and stories
Many of Venice’s bridges have interesting stories and myths connected to them, and the Rialto Bridge is no exception. One legend tells the story of the daughter of the Doge Angelo Partecipazio, Estrella. She was a brave girl who tried to convince Pipino to think twice about his plan to force the Venetians to find refuge in Rialto following a dispute between the Franks and the Byzantines. Sadly, Estrella’s attempt to bring peace failed.
Things turned around when the Franks were forced to retreat when the dam they built collapsed due to the high tide. Estrella’s father, Angelo Partecipazio, was crowned the new Doge and the city rejoiced. However, tragedy struck when Estrella’s boat was hit by a massive stone thrown from a celebratory catapult strike. She was thrown into the waters, never to be heard from again. The spot where she disappeared is thought to be where the Rialto Bridge stands today.
Another story, which is also wrapped with grief-stricken tragedy, surrounds the architect of the bridge, Antonio da Ponte. Locals talk of a legend involving an appearance of the devil himself on the bridge. He blackmailed the architect, warning him that the bridge would never live to stand another day unless he was given the soul of its first passenger upon completion. Antonio de Ponte agreed, since he had plans to let a cockerel cross the bridge before anyone else did. However, the devil went to the architect’s pregnant wife, told her that her husband was waiting for at the other side of the bridge, and took the soul of her unborn child as a result. For years locals reported sightings of a ghost child haunting the bridge until finally, it found peace.