Venice is often called the “City of Canals,” but it is also known as the “City of Bridges” because of the vast number of spans that crisscross its waterways. While many of Venice’s 354 bridges are practical and rather nondescript, others embody the beauty and history of this fascinating city. Many readers of the Italian Tribune will be traveling to Italy during the next few months. Since Venice is an important destination, we are featuring the bridges that visitors will invariably be using.
The Rialto Bridge is perhaps the most iconic in all of Venice and likely the most photographed. It is the main pedestrian crossing over the Grand Canal. Rows of shops line each side of this wide, arched bridge and the famous Rialto food market is nearby. Originally built in 1181, using boats that were linked together, the bridge was rebuilt 1591, by architects Sansovino and Vignola. It is a true work of art.
Another famous or perhaps infamous footbridge, is the Bridge of Sighs, which connects the Doge’s Palace with the Prigioni – prisons. Though many visitors find this bridge and its name romantic, it offered prisoners of the Venetian Republic a final opportunity to view the city before they were led to their cells or to the executioner. The Italian name for the Bridge of Sighs is Ponte dei Sospiri. The canal beneath the bridge is one of the most popular places to kiss in Venice. If you want to view this bridge, the best vantage point is Ponte della Paglia, which dates back to 1847. Local folklore has it that the bridge got its name because it was the location where boats docked to unload their cargo of Paglia – straw.
Ponte dell’Accademia is so named because it crosses the Grand Canal at the Galleria dell Accademia, one of the most important museums in Venice. The present bridge is the third structure that has been located on the site. A crossing was first erected in the mid-19th century and was then replaced in the 1930s. The current bridge dates from 1985. It is interesting due to its high arch construction and also that it is made from wood, rather than stone or brick.
The Scalzi Bridge is named for the nearby Chiesa degli Scalzi – Church of the Barefoot Monks. It is an elegant stone span that links the Santa Croce and Cannaregio neighborhoods and dates from 1934 and is one of four bridges over the Grand Canal. For those arriving in Venice by rail to the Santa Lucia Station, the Scalzi Bridge will be one of the first bridges crossed after disembarking.
Ponte di Calatrava is one of the newest spans, completed in 2008. The commonly used name for the bridge is not its official one. The real name is Ponte della Constituzione. It crosses the Grand Canal and links the Santa Lucia Train Station to Piazzale Roma. Calatrava, the name of its architect, has been a controversial addition to Venice’s architectural landscape. This is due in part to its modern appearance, but more so based upon the number of travelers who trip on the bridge’s unequally spaced steps or slip on the glass walkway.
The Ponte delle Guglie is one of two bridges that span the Cannaregio Canal and is situated at its western end, near where it joins with the Grand Canal. It is close to the Venezia Santa Lucia train station and not far from the Rialto Bridge. This stone-and-brick bridge has ornate decoration including gargoyles on its arch and is also known as the “Bridge of Spires.” It is the only bridge in Venice to have this architectural detail. You will doubtless encounter many small bridges on your visit. Often, these spans have a character all their own and are part of the reason that there is no city in the world like Venice.