Bridges in Venice: walking on water

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Venice is famous for its small canals, for the amazing Piazza San Marco, for the Canal Grande, for its magical atmosphere, for the most expensive coffee in the world and, like every other city floating on the water, for its bridges.

In Venice there are 354 bridges that connect the 118 islands divided by 177 canals (more or less) in the Venetian Lagoon. That’s why I decided to collect some interesting images and funny facts about the most famous bridges in Venice.

Ponte della Libertà

Ponte della Liberta'
Ponte della Liberta’ – Venice

Not all the tourists know this bridge, but all of them used it! For those of you that don’t know, Venice is not close to the mainland and it’s actually an island in the middle of a lagoon.

Ponte della Liberta' - Venice
Ponte della Liberta’ – Venice

The Ponte della Libertà, designed in 1932 and opened by Mussolini in 1933, is the bridge connecting the city of Venice to the mainland. This 4 km bridge is the only connection for road vehicles and trains to get to Venice. Venice in 1565 – no connection to the mainland

Venice in 1565 - no connection to the mainland
Venice in 1565 – no connection to the mainland

Venice was isolated from the mainland until 1846, when a railroad bridge was constructed, primarily for trade purposes. The same bridge was later expanded and a public road with two lanes each way was built alongside the railroad.

Ponte dell’Accademia

Ponte dell'Accademia
Ponte dell’Accademia

The Ponte dell’Accedemia is one of the four bridges in Venice that span the Canal Grande. It takes its name from the nearby Accademia galleries. The first time the Venice municipality conceived of this bridge was in 1488, with an aim to allow people to cross the Canal Grande not only via the Rialto Bridge (which was the only bridge over the Canal Grande for more than 300 years). Thanks to numerous revolutions and wars (quite common in those years), the bridge was finally completed in 1854, based on the project of the engineer Alfred Neville. It was a steel bridge, never loved by the Venetians because of its industrial style.

Ponte dell'Accademia
Ponte dell’Accademia

The bridge was demolished in 1930 and in only 37 days a new bridge (the current one) was built based on the project of the Italian architect Eugenio Miozzi. This bridge was built as a temporary structure waiting for a project for a new stone bridge but, because of its solidity, it was never replaced and is now an integral part of the Venetian scene.

Ponte della Costituzione

Ponte della Costituzione - Venice
Ponte della Costituzione – Venice (1)

The Ponte della Costituzione (or Constitution Bridge) is the newest bridge built in Venice. The fourth bridge over the Canal Grande, it was designed by the famous architect Santiago Calatrava and was installed in 2008, connecting the Santa Lucia train station to Piazzale Roma.

Ponte della Costituzione - Venice
Ponte della Costituzione – Venice (2)

The bridge is made of steel, glass and pietra d’Istria (the stone used for most of the structures in Venice); this combination of materials gives the bridge a modern aspect that also manages to perfectly match its surroundings.

Ponte della Costituzione
Ponte della Costituzione passing under the Rialto Bridge

The central part of the bridge was assembled and then transported on a special boat along the Canal Grande to its final location. The images of the new bridge passing under the most famous bridge in Venice, the Ponte di Rialto, are extremely spectacular.

Ponte del Diavolo

Ponte del Diavolo
Ponte del Diavolo – Torcello

The Ponte del Diavolo (Devil’s Bridge) is located on the island of Torcello, far away from the city centre, but still part of the Venetian Lagoon. Torcello is considered the oldest populated region of the lagoon and once held the largest population of the Republic of Venice, 10,000 people, and was much more powerful than Venice itself.

Torcello in a postcard (1910)
Torcello in a postcard (1910)

The lagoon around the island gradually became a swamp from the 12th century onwards, navigation become impossible and the swamp aggravated the malaria situation. Because of that the people left Torcello for Murano, Burano or Venice. Nowadays Torcello has a population of around 20 people but it still retains its archeological importance.

The Ponte del Diavolo is one of the oldest bridges in the entire lagoon and it shows how bridges were originally constructed in Venice, without any railings. Though the name seems to indicate some ancestral and occult etymology, the bridge actually took its name from the family that used to live there, the Diavoli family (in English, ‘devils’).

Ponte delle Guglie

Ponte delle Guglie
Ponte delle Guglie – Venice (3)

The Ponte delle Guglie (Bridge of Spires) crosses the Cannaregio Canal in Venice. A wooden bridge was originally built in 1285, then a new stone one was built in 1580, restored in 1641 and 1677, and the structure was totally rebuilt in 1823. It is the only bridge in Venice adorned with spires, from whence it takes its name; you can also see gargoyles decorating its arch.

Ponte delle Guglie- Venice - Detail
Ponte delle Guglie- Venice – Detail

Ponte della Paglia

Ponte della Paglia
Ponte della Paglia

The Ponte della Paglia (Straw Bridge) is a marble bridge that crosses the Rio di Palazzo, close to Palazzo Ducale in Venice. This structure is very popular famous because it is the bridge from where you can enjoy an impressive view of one of the most famous bridges in Venice, the Ponte dei Sospiri (the Bridge of Sighs).

Canaletto "Palazzo del Doge con Ponte della Paglia a Piazza San Marco"
Canaletto “Palazzo del Doge con Ponte della Paglia a Piazza San Marco”

Straw Bridge is so called because in the past it was the docking point for boats carrying cargoes of straw.

Ponte dei Pugni

Ponte dei Pugni - Venezia
Ponte dei Pugni – Venezia

The Ponte dei Pugni (Bridge of Punches) is a small and, apparently, unimportant bridge in Venice. Before 1705 this small and insignificant bridge was, however, one of the most important and busy bridges of the whole lagoon. For years two feuding gangs of Venice, the Castellani and the Nicolotti, fought each other on this bridge every year from September to December in an ancient ritual called ‘La Battaglia dei Pugni’ (The Punches Fight).

Ponte dei Pugni - Battaglia dei Pugni
Ponte dei Pugni – Battaglia dei Pugni

Actually, these two gangs were fighting on several bridges in Venice, but this was one of their favorites. The Ponte dei Pugni, in the past, had no railings (like most of the bridges in Venice) and the punches fight was a simple last-man-standing brawl on top of the bridge, with the team that managed to keep its men on the deck declared the victor.

Ponte dei Pugni - Punches fight
Ponte dei Pugni – Punches fight

In 1705 this ‘game’ was officially prohibited due to the escalation of violence during the fight and the fact that people started to use not only punches but also knifes.

Ponte di Rialto

Ponte di Rialto - Venice
Ponte di Rialto – Venice

The Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge) is the oldest bridge across the Canal Grande in Venice and is, most certainly, the most famous of the 4 bridges that cross the canal. The first bridge was built in 1181 and was a pontoon bridge called Ponte della Moneta (Coin Bridge). In 1255, due to the development and importance of the Rialto market and the increased traffic on the floating bridge, it was replaced by a wooden structure.

Ponte di Rialto - Venice - the wooden bridge
Ponte di Rialto – Venice – the wooden bridge

To allow the passage of tall ships, the bridge had two inclined ramps meeting at a movable central section that was able to be raised. During this period the bridge was called Ponte di Rialto, because of the important market close by, and two rows of shops were built along the sides of the bridge. The wooden bridge had a difficult life; it was partly burned during an early revolt and it also collapsed in 1444 and in 1524. Because of that, in 1503, an idea was proposed to rebuild a bridge in stone. Several projects were considered over the following decades, but only in 1591 was the bridge completed, based on the project of Antonio da Ponte, a very famous Venetian architect and engineer.

Ponte di Rialto - Venice - Shops
Ponte di Rialto – Venice – Shops

Ponte degli Scalzi

Ponte degli Scalzi - Venice
Ponte degli Scalzi – Venice

The Ponte degli Scalzi (‘Bridge of the barefoot’) is another of the four bridges to span the Canal Grande in Venice, and was originally constructed in 1858 to connect the railway station (also newly built) to the rest of the city. This was an industrial-style iron bridge that was never really welcomed by the Venetians…it was built during the Austrian domination of the city.

Ponte degli Scalzi - Old bridge
Ponte degli Scalzi – Old bridge

After few years the bridge started to show stability problems so the city council decided to replace it with a more Venetian bridge. In 1932 the construction of the new bridge started and after only 2 years, in 1934, the Ponte degli Scalzi was opened.

Ponte dei Sospiri

Ponte dei Sospiri - Venice
Ponte dei Sospiri – Venice

The Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) is one of the most famous and beautiful bridges in Venice. Built in 1602, it’s an enclosed bridge made of white limestone and is lined with windows with stone bars. The bridge connects the old prison to the interrogation rooms in the Palazzo del Doge (Doge’s Palace).

View from the Bridge of Sighs
View from the Bridge of Sighs (4)

The view from the bridge was the last view of Venice that convicts saw before their imprisonment (legend says), that’s why the bridge is named Bridge of Sighs, because the prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice through the window before being taken down to their cells and, eventually, executed. In reality when the bridge was built the cells under the palace were occupied by small-time criminals and the days of summary executions were over…

Ponte dei Sospiri - Venice
Ponte dei Sospiri – Venice (5)

Another legend says that lovers will be granted everlasting love and bliss if they kiss on a gondola at sunset under the bridge.

Ponte delle Tette

Ponte delle Tette - Venice
Ponte delle Tette – Venice

Last but not least, a small bridge with a long story. The Ponte delle Tette (Bridge of the Tits) is a small bridge in the Carampane di Rialto. The Carampane di Rialto was one of the red-light districts in Venice in the fifteenth century. The bridge takes its name from the prostitutes that were encouraged to stand upon it topless to entice and convert suspected homosexuals.

Ponte delle Tette - Venice
Ponte delle Tette – Venice

The Republic of Venice supported this practise in order to help stem the tide of a growing wave of homosexuality, which had apparently grown into a social problem. Prostitution was largely tolerated and even supported in Venice: in 1509 there were more than 11,000 courtesans working in Venice and taxes on prostitution in 1519 helped finance excavation at the Arsenale.

With more than 350 bridges in Venice, it was really hard to choose which bridges to discuss, but I’m quite sure you can’t wait to go to Venice and see all of them – remember to send us some photos when you do!

Photo Credits

(1) Mikelino @ Flickr (2) (3) Wikipedia (4) Wikipedia (5) Wikipedia


One Response

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