Not many bridges in the world have as much history and intrigue as the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. If you were to look at the bridge from afar without knowing about its story, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s just like the other dozen bridges in Venice. However, the Bridge of Sighs, also known as the Bridge of the Sorrowful, is where convicted prisoners crossed when they left the court and made their way to their prison cell – or, for the unlucky ones, the room of torment. Thankfully, it’s not all misery and sorrow nowadays. Romantics have reclaimed the bridge as a symbol of love and courtship, which is a lot more light-hearted than the historical meaning.
The history of the Bridge of Sighs
To find the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, make your way to the Rio di Palazzo, where the bridge connects Doge’s Palace to the New Prison. Built in 1600 by Antonio Contino, Sighs Bridge is made from white limestone and features decorative details and narrow windows. Its primary purpose was to move convicted felons from the courthouse to the prison on the other side of the bridge. Stories have been told about regretful prisoners who, as they crossed the bridge for the final time, would look out at Venice from the bridge and let out a sorrowful sigh. The view through the tiny windows offered prisoners a last glimpse of the city before they were taken to their cells.
The Bridge of Sighs today
Venice is an incredibly romantic city and a favourite destination for couples looking to keep the flames burning brightly. Although Sighs Bridge has a lot of sorrow swarming its legacy, nowadays, it’s become more of a symbol of love than sadness. The bridge has been the source of inspiration for many songs, poems and films throughout the years. Its cultural popularity has helped keep its intrigue and allure alive for centuries. Interestingly, Venice’s Bridge of Sighs is not the only one of its kind in the world. Other cities, including Oxford, Manchester, Cambridge, Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania, have each built their own version of the bridge, so the next time you’re visiting any of those places, make sure you stop by the Sighs Bridge and see how it compares to the original.
Exploring inside the bridge
If you want to see more of the iconic Bridge of Sighs, your best option is to book a tour. That way, you’ll get to explore the Doge’s Palace, which is another popular attraction in Venice. From there, you’re led across the Bridge of Sighs; stop mid-way to peek through the narrow windows and catch the same glimpse of Venice as all the disgruntled prisoners of the past. Your tour guide will also give you access to areas of the palace that are usually off limits to regular visitors. Uncover secret passageways and roam through the halls until you come across the interrogation room and eerie torture chamber.
A romantic experience
Take someone special to see the Bridge of Sighs, and there’s a chance they’ll be yours forever. Legend has it that couples who share a kiss in a gondola beneath the bridge when the bells of St. Mark’s ring out at sunset, will stay together forever. This belief alone is enough to make couples travel far and wide to test the theory. Under the bridge is also a popular spot for proposals and romantic gestures; so if you’re looking for a romantic place for date night, book a peaceful gondola tour with your other half the next time you’re in Venice.
More about the bridge
With its Italian Renaissance architectural style, the Bridge of Sighs is an impressive sight. It is 36ft wide and known to be one of the most elegant bridges in not just Europe, but the world. If you happen to get a closer look at the bridge’s exterior, take some time to look at the design in detail. You’ll count 20 faces, also known as ‘mascarons’ intricately carved on the lowest arch of the bridge. Most of the mascarons depict sad expressions, but there is one face that looks sort of happy, so try and see if you can spot him as you pass under the bridge.
Interestingly, the multiple carved faces serve a purpose other than aesthetic intrigue. In 17th century Italy, locals believed that ornamental carvings like this had the power to ward off evil spirits. This is why you’ll see so many mascarons on not just the Bridge of Sighs, but across the city of Venice.