Venice, the “City of Canals,” is also called the “City of Bridges” because of the numerous spans that crisscross its waterways. While many of Venice’s 400+ bridges are nondescript and practical, there are several that embody the beauty and the history of this fascinating city. Here are the bridges to seek out on a trip to Venice.
Bridge of Sighs
There are a few theories as to how the bridge got its name. The first one involves the prisoners that walked across the bridge on their way to the executioner. The prisoners would “sigh” as they crossed the bridge, probably catching their last glimpse of the outside world, many believed. Even though by the time the bridge was built summary executions at the hands of the inquisitors had ceased, many prisoners probably did cross the bridge and may have not seen freedom again… at least not for many years.
Another story says that if a couple kisses under the bridge Bridge of Sighs, Venicewhile drifting below on a gondola at sunset, they will enjoy eternal love. Thus, the “sighs” are said to come from lovers who are overwhelmed by the romance of the whole scene.
This romantic view was created by the Poet Lord Byron with his writings: “I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs, a palace and prison on each hand”.
The Piazza San Marco may be more famous, but the Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge) is the true heart of Venice. The current structure was built in just three years, between 1588 and 1591, as a permanent replacement for the boat bridge and three wooden bridges that had spanned the Grand Canal at various times since the 12th Century. It remained the only way to cross the Grand Canal on foot until the Accademia Bridge was built in 1854.
The Rialto Bridge’s 7.5-meter (24-foot) arch was designed to allow passage of galleys, and the massive structure was built on some 12,000 wooden pilings that still support the bridge more than 400 years later. The architect, Antonio da Ponte (“Anthony of the Bridge,” appropriately enough), competed against such eminent designers as Michelangelo and Palladio for the contract.
It’s hard to miss the Ponte di Rialto. From the train station or the Piazzale Roma, simply follow the signs to “Rialto.” The same applies if you’re walking from the Piazza San Marco. (Just head for the clock tower, cut through the arched passage, and follow the upscale shopping streets known as the Mercerie until you reach the Grand Canal, then turn right and walk two blocks to the bridge.)
Another option is to approach the bridge by vaporetto, or water bus. The No. 1 local stops at Rialto on its way up or down the Grand Canal; for information on other boats, see our Venice Vaporetto Routes article.
The Academy Bridge (Ponte dell’Accademia) is so named because it crosses the Grand Canal at the Galleria dell’Accademia, one of the top museums in Venice. While the Ponte dell’Accademia is not a new bridge – it was first erected in the mid-19th century then replaced in the 1930s – it is interesting for its high arch construction and the fact that it is wooden. The current Academy Bridge dates from 1985, when the 1930s bridge was deemed too dangerous.
From San Marco, follow the yellow arrow signs to “Accademia,” go through the Campo San Stefano, and exit the square on the south side (past the former Church of San Vidal) on your way to the water. From Dorsoduro, follow the yellow “Accademia” signs to the Gallerie dell’Accademia and the Campo della Carità, where you’ll see the bridge.
It won’t be the most famous bridge in Venice, but also the Scalzi Bridge has its own story and its peculiarities. Along with the Rialto Bridge, the Accademia Bridge and the Costituzione Bridge (called also Calatrava Bridge) is one of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal, also known as “Ponte della Ferrovia” for its proximity to the train station of Venice Santa Lucia.
Of the four bridges over the Grand Canal, the Scalzi is one of the most modern: designed by Alfred Neville in 1858 to connect the city to the new railway station, was made of cast iron and rather low, which proved to be a problem for the passage of boats. The first bridge was also alien to the Venetian style aesthetic, sore marrying the environment: for which he was not so loved by people. When the cast showed the first signs of weakness in the 30s the municipality of Venice decided to replace the structure with a new bridge in Istrian stone and with a single arch, designed by Eugene Miozzi and inaugurated in 1934. This is the bridge that currently we admire, from which are clearly visible the Church of San Geremia and Santa Maria di Nazareth, the Palazzo Flangini and Palazzo Calbo Grotta.
Ponte di Calatrava
After years of construction delays and cost overruns, Venice has a fourth bridge across the Grand Canal. The bridge is officially named the Ponte della Costituzione, but nearly everyone in Venice calls it the Ponte di Calatrava. The bridge was designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, whose past projects have included the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain, the Olympic Sports Complex in Athens, and the precedent-setting “twisting torso” skyscraper in Malmö, Sweden.
The Ponte di Calatrava is a long, sweeping curve of glass and steel that is designed to complement both the historic buildings on the Piazzale Roma side of the canal and the 1950s modernity of Venice’s main railway station. Now that it’s open, travelers won’t have to go out of their way to cross the canal via the Ponte dei Scalzi or pay to ride the vaporetto as they’ve been forced to do in the past.
Tips for using the bridge: Although the Calatrava Bridge looks high, the steps are low, and it’s fairly easy to cross on a dry day (even with heavy luggage). Be careful on wet or icy days, when the glass steps can be slippery. (Walking in the middle, where the steps are made of stone, is safer.)
Venice is a pedestrian city, and alleyways and bridges are its highways and flyovers – so sitting on a bridge is a bit like parking in the middle of the road. Italians always say hello and goodbye in social situations. A simple “buon giorno” in the morning or “buona sera” in the afternoon or evening goes a long way. “Ciao” is more informal. If somebody says “grazie” , it’s polite to say “prego” in return.
If you’re invited to dinner, flowers or chocolates for the hostess are a more usual gift than a bottle of wine.