Bridge of Sighs in Venice.

Bridge of Sighs in Venice (Ponte dei Sospiri)

Bridge of Sighs in Venice (Ponte dei Sospiri)

The Bridge of Sighs (Italian sounds like “Ponte dei Sospiri”), a true gem of the Baroque period, is one of the most favorite tourist attractions in Venice.

The graceful bridge attracts attention with its airy construction that blends in very harmoniously with its surroundings. The striking marble carvings and the white color contrasting with the bluish-green waters of the Palatine Canal give it lightness.

Bridge of Sighs in Venice (Ponte dei Sospiri)

History and Architecture

The Bridge of Sighs over the Palace Canal in Venice was built in 1602 by the architect Antonio Conti. The length of the bridge is about 11 m. It is an unusual construction, connecting two buildings at the height of the second floor. The bridge has a roof and small windows, which makes its appearance extremely memorable.

The atmosphere of romance in the city, the beauty of the bridge itself and the mysterious name made you think of lovers meeting and sighing in love? But no, this impression is deceptive, to make sure of this, just specify what two buildings connect this beautiful structure.

Bridge of Sighs in Venice (Ponte dei Sospiri)

The Bridge of Sighs provides a passage from the Doge’s Palace (the rulers of Venice) to the casemates of the New Prison. Yes, that’s right, and there’s no room for romance in this story. Historically, the Doge’s Palace housed, in addition to the living quarters of the head of state, many important government offices, including the court and the prison. When the rooms in the palace intended for the detention of prisoners were overcrowded, the New Prison was built across the canal. Court sessions were held in the palace, and then, over a bridge spanning the canal, the prisoners were sent directly to the New Prison cells under a strict escort. To eliminate the possibility of escape, the bridge was built as a closed structure with small barred windows that almost blocked the sunlight.

The story of how the Bridge of Sighs got its name is interesting. Of course, when it was built it could not happen, too much difference between its romantic name and rather gloomy purpose.

Bridge of Sighs in Venice (Ponte dei Sospiri)

According to legend, the bridge over the Palace Canal was first called “Bridge of Sighs” by Lord Byron in his novel “The Pilgrimage of Childe Harold”, written in the 19th century. In the novel, the author describes both the bridge, the trial, and the prison cells. It was Lord Byron who drew the attention of his contemporaries to the feelings that overwhelm a prisoner as he walks, across a closed, barred bridge, perhaps one way, with no return.

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How to walk across the Bridge of Sighs

For a long time the bridge was closed to the public due to restoration work, but today anyone can walk across the “prisoner’s crossing”. To do so, you must buy a ticket to the Doge’s Palace, the tour program of which includes a tour of the casemates of the New Prison. Walking across the bridge, trying to see the sights nearby through the barred windows of the bridge, it is not difficult to imagine yourself as a Venetian prisoner. The prison building looks ominous even from the outside, inside it gives a very grim impression: no light, small cells, narrow corridors. The realistic feel of the inside of the prison further enhances the contrast with the bridge’s gentle exterior.

Bridges of Sighs in the World

An interesting fact is that there are not many covered bridges in the world. The Bridge of Sighs in Venice, long the only structure of its kind, today has a number of “followers”. Thus, in Britain there are two Bridges of Sighs, built in the image and likeness of the Venetian one. The first one is in Cambridge; it was built in 1831 across the River Cam, between the Third and New Houses of St. John’s College, Cambridge University.

Bridge of Sighs in Cambridge

The second, in Oxford, bearing the official name of Hartford Bridge, built in 1914, connects the two buildings of Hartford College of Oxford University and crosses New College Lane. The bridge in Cambridge is located, like the bridge in Venice, above the water; the Oxford bridge connects the two buildings above ground. Both bridges are used only by those associated with universities.

Bridge of Sighs (Hertford Bridge), Oxford

Also similar bridges include the Gothic Bridge in Barcelona, located between the government buildings and the Casa Canonica, it was built in 1926.

Bridge of Sighs (Gothic Bridge), Barcelona

How to get there

The Bridge of Sighs is in the heart of Venice, not far from Piazza San Marco. It attracts an incredible number of tourists every day, so it is simply impossible to pass by it when walking around Venice.

The best place from which you can see the Bridge of Sighs in detail is considered the Straw Bridge, located nearby.

It should be noted that transport in Venice is mainly water, land transport as such is almost non-existent, at least in the island part of the city. Most tourists move on foot or by vaporetto, a beautiful and unique form of water transport available only in Venice. The stop where you must get off to see the Bridge of Sighs is called San Zaccaria. Once you get off the ramp, you have to walk along the promenade to the left. In a few minutes you will find the Straw Bridge, an ideal vantage point to admire the picturesque Bridge of Sighs.

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It is impossible not to mention the fact that the city, as well as Italy in general, has recently become very popular with honeymooners. In case the budget does not allow to organize the whole celebration, a wedding photo shoot in Venice is always available, which will leave behind not only pleasant memories, but also colorful photos.

Bridge of Sighs

One of the most famous bridges in Venice is the Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) that connects the Doge’s Palace to the former prison of the Republic.

The small Baroque bridge owes its fame to Lord Byron, who gave it its poetic name, and to the dark legend that developed around the bridge in subsequent centuries. What’s so special about it?

History and legend

The Doge’s Palace during the Venetian Republic was not only the home of the Doge and the government: in fact, all the most important state institutions were concentrated here. Given the small size of the city and its unusual geography, this doesn’t seem strange – just an efficient approach to running things. In one wing the Doge lived, in another the Great Council gathered, in some rooms foreign ambassadors were received, in others lawyers and censors worked, etc. Not surprisingly, therefore, both the court and the prison of the Venetian Republic were also located in the Doge’s palace. The Council of Ten, the secret police of Venice, tried the most important cases here (usually political ones) and, if convicted, the convict was immediately transferred to a cell.

The old prison of the Doge’s palace was divided into two zones: the so-called “piombi” (from piombo – lead) and the “pozzi” (from pozzo – well). The piombi cells were located at the top, under the lead roof, and the pozzi cells were located at the bottom, by the water. Their living conditions were extremely harsh; the cell was a tiny cage. Those upstairs suffered from terrible heat in the summer and were unable to keep warm in the winter. Downstairs, the constant humidity, cold, and darkness did their work as well; the death rate among the inmates was very high. Casanova, the most famous Venetian prisoner (and the only one who managed to escape from this prison), left a colorful description of the Venetian cells. He compared the pozzi’s cells to graves, writing that there was always water (almost half a meter) and that huge rats roamed about, stealing a ration of bread from the prisoner. The images are frightening, to say the least.

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As time went on, the cells in the Old Prison became insufficient. Then the New Prison was built next to the Doge’s Palace (across the Palace Canal). This is where the history of the Bridge of Sighs begins – it was built by the architect Antonio Conti in 1602 and connected the Doge’s Palace with the New Prison. The prison purpose of the bridge is reflected in its design: small, enclosed with tiny windows – everything to eliminate any chance of escape.

Oddly enough, that’s pretty much where the history of the bridge ends and the legend begins. At the beginning of the XIX century (that is, after the fall of the Republic) Venice was visited by the famous poet Byron. In addition to all the delights of the city, Byron was intensely interested in the history of Venice’s main prison. It was he, in a poetic impulse, who gave the small bridge the name that has stuck forever – The Bridge of Sighs. Of course, it referred to the sighs of prisoners who, upon hearing their sentence, cross the bridge and see a piece of the Venetian sky through the window for the last time in their lives.

It is said that Byron even spent the night in one of the cells of the New Prison to get a better sense of the hopelessness of the prisoner’s situation. Whether this is true or not is unknown, but there is no doubt that Byron in his associations imagined the horrors of the Old Prison described by Casanova. In the New Prison conditions were far more humane – some prisoners could even work in the prison, something that would have been unthinkable in a pozzi or piombi.

One way or another, the image the poet created was very powerful. Since then, the Bridge of Sighs invariably attracts the attention of all visitors to Venice, even those not too familiar with its history. Some do not even know the true meaning of its name and think that it refers to something romantic – the sighs of lovers. Many guides support this misconception, believing, apparently, that it is useful for the bridge to have more than one legend. So there is a belief that if lovers swim at midnight under the Bridge of Sighs and kiss, their feelings will never fade. Well, it’s quite a cute legend.

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How to get there

From the outside, the Bridge of Sighs can be seen from the Straw Bridge (1), located on Venice’s main promenade, the Slavic Promenade (2).

Most tourists come here by vaporetto – the stop is San Zaccaria (3). Once you get off the gangway, walk along the promenade to the left. In a minute or two you will reach the Straw Bridge. It’s hard to miss it – there are always a lot of people crowded here, wanting to take pictures with the Bridge of Sighs (4). If you come not by vaporetto but on foot from the interior, head toward Piazza San Marco (5), then walk to the promenade (signposted by two columns with statues) and you will find the Doge’s Palace (6) on your left. When you reach the columns, turn left and after a minute you will find yourself on the Straw Bridge.

It’s a bit of a jam during the season, but not for long. People take a few pictures, admire the bridge for a minute or two, and then give way to the next passerby. Gondolas pass under the bridge every now and then – it is a very popular tourist route. It is interesting to note that structures “based on” the Bridge of Sighs are in several countries and cities.

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How to walk across the Bridge of Sighs

For a long time the Bridge of Sighs was closed to the public, but a few years ago the restoration work is finally over. If you buy a ticket to the Museum of the Doge’s Palace (it costs 20 EUR), you can cross the bridge to the building of the New Prison, and then go back along the next corridor.

Even from the outside, the prison building looks ominous. Whether the prisoners were sighing as they supposedly cast their last glimpse of Venice, it’s hard to say – the views from here are rather austere and unfriendly – as if to match the setting. You can see the crowd on the Straw Bridge (some tourists even manage to wave from the window) and in the distance – the panorama of the island of San Giorgio with the monastery and campanile.

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After crossing the bridge, see the cells of the prisoners. The atmosphere is Spartan and there is very little space. The narrow corridors seem to compress the space around you. As you wander through them, it’s easy to feel like a prisoner of the Republic of Venice.

This door is located on the lower level, next to the cells, and opens directly onto the canal. You can hear the water splashing behind it, and it periodically floods the prison floor – the slab in front of the door is wet all the time. It’s not hard to imagine how much these rooms flood during the frequent Venetian floods. In general, Casanova’s stories take on very real features in this place. And this, let me remind you, is the New Prison, which was considered humane compared to the Piombi and the Pozzi…

After wandering through the cells, you can go out into the prison courtyard. The atmosphere here, too, is uniquely bleak. In general, being in these cells is melancholic. So when you walk from the prison across the Bridge of Sighs back to the palace, you feel a great relief – as if you are breathing with your chest full. It is because of this realistic atmosphere that the prison of the Doge’s Palace is worth a visit.

Near the Bridge of the Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs is in the heart of Venice and once you have admired it you can go wherever you want – everywhere you will find something interesting.

You’ll find Piazza San Marco and its museums, including the Doge’s Palace, a stone’s throw away. If you go from the Straw Bridge to the east, in 10-15 minutes you will find yourself in the Arsenal and you can visit the Naval Museum of Venice.

On the Slavyanskaya embankment you can always arrange a gondola ride. In this case, be sure to explain to the gondolier that you want to ride under the Bridge of Sighs, the good thing for this is enough to point a finger in his direction – the boatman will understand everything. Gondola ride of 40 minutes will cost 90 EUR.

Finally, you can take the vaporetto here and go anywhere in Venice. It is worth, for example, to sail to the island of San Giorgio, which is so clearly visible from the Bridge of Sighs, to enjoy a panoramic view of the city from its campanile.

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