The Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto) is one of Venice’s most famous bridges; the place where most sightseeing itineraries to major attractions begin and end. The Italian city is situated on 117 islands connected by more than half a hundred canals. Over 400 bridges are stretched over these waterways, and among them the oldest and most beautiful and rich in historical events is precisely Rialto. Venetian gondoliers make sure to stop here. A tour of the Grand Canal is also conveniently starting from the Rialto Bridge. Many tourists even try to stay in apartment hotels nearby, because only here you can feel the true atmosphere of this unique ancient city on the water.
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Video: Rialto Bridge
Trading on the Rialto Bridge
The development of seafaring and trade, the special privileges of Venetian merchants turned the city into the main trading center of Europe. Since the IX century local merchants by treaty between Byzantium and the Empire of the Franks were allowed to travel freely by sea and land, and since the end of the XI century this right became a monopoly – foreign merchants were obliged to sell their goods in Venice. It was here, in the area of the future bridge, that the Rialto market was formed in the twelfth century.
Precious stones, silks, spices, coffee and even drugs were brought to Europe through the Venetian merchants, and the main trade transactions took place here. Securities were also traded here, and Shakespeare’s question, “What’s new on the Rialto?” (the play The Merchant of Venice) meant an interest in the news of economics, trade and social life. Here, in the heart of Venice and the narrowest part of the canal, the bridge was vital.
View from the Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal of Venice
From the early history of the bridge
For centuries there has been a crossing here: first, people would simply tie their boats to each other and thus cross over to the other side. Often such crossings ended tragically.
In 1181, under the direction of the architect Nicolo Barattieri, the first bridge across the Grand Canal was built. It was a wooden pontoon structure called Ponte della Monetta (translated from Italian as “coin bridge”). According to one version – because of its proximity to the mint, according to another – because a crossing fee was charged.
However, movement of ships via the canal turned out to be very difficult, and in the middle of the XIII century the sliding bridge was built. It consisted of two wooden ramps that were connected by a removable structure in the center. The bridge was named Rialto, as the market of the same name was rapidly developing nearby.
Rialto sliding bridge built in XIII century
During the suppression of the revolt against the Doge, led by Baiamonte Tiepolo, in 1310, the bridge was badly burned, but then it was rebuilt. At the beginning of the fifteenth century it was lined with market stalls. The rent was paid to the Treasury of Venice, and part of the income covered the maintenance of the bridge. In 1444, the structure collapsed. According to some reports, it could not withstand the crowd, rushing here to gawk at the bride of the Margrave of Ferrara, according to others – the cause was the popular boat parades, which gathered a huge number of spectators. By the way, rowing races won the hearts of the Venetians back in the XIII century, and fans very often arranged on the Rialto Bridge or on the floating platforms and supported their favorites.
Rialto Bridge in a painting by Francesco Guardi (18th century)
Two lively neighborhoods are separated by water at this point: San Polo and San Marco. Their representatives, according to witnesses, feuded and often staged fist fights on the Rialto Bridge, which caused it to finally fall apart. A new wooden bridge had to be built. A lifting mechanism was built into the structure to ensure unobstructed passage of ships. Due to constant contact with water, the wood rotted and deteriorated. At the beginning of the 16th century, the inhabitants constantly appealed to the rulers to build a stone bridge. But due to the reconstruction of the Doge’s Palace, which was damaged by a fire, the construction was once again postponed. Finally, when in 1524 the old wooden structure collapsed, the government of Venice began to consider designs for a new bridge.
Along with the famous architects of the time – Palladio, Sansovino, Jacopo – even Michelangelo submitted his project. But surprisingly, the competition was won by the not very famous and already elderly architect Antonio de Ponte (last name translates from Italian as “bridge”), who proved himself during the restoration of the Doge’s Palace after the fire.
Rialto Bridge in Venice
The construction of the structure, quite unlike classical arched bridges, lasted three years. According to historians, the architect was assisted by his nephew Antonio Conti, who later designed the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. Numerous detractors predicted the Rialto Bridge would soon collapse. Indeed, the architect violated the accepted design canons of the time. It was believed that a construction of such gravity should be with an arch in half a circle, whereas it had an arch only in the eighth part.
While working on the calculations, Ponte based his calculations on the law of force distribution established by Galileo Galilei. In 1591 the first ships passed under the bridge. The design stood the test of time, and until 1854 the Rialto was the only bridge spanning the Grand Canal. The bridge survived all its detractors and to this day remains a marvel of engineering and a monument to human genius.
Bas-relief in the form of an angel on the Rialto Bridge
Features of design
There are 12 thousand piles driven into the base of the Rialto Bridge, because the bottom of the Venice lagoon is uneven. The height of the bridge at its highest point reaches 7.5 meters, its length is 48 m, the width of the arch, under which the ships pass, is 28 m. The structure is a gallery of 24 arches: 12 on each side, separated by a wide stone staircase.
The Rialto Bridge is decorated with white marble and bas-reliefs. In the arches there are stores and souvenir shops. In the center of the bridge is the portico: the taller two arches form an observation deck with a wonderful view of the Grand Canal, the main “street” of the city. The facade of the bridge used to be painted with the works of prominent Venetian painters, but time has erased the works without a trace.
Rialto Bridge in works of art
This grandiose structure has inspired many painters, and the paintings had not only artistic but also historical significance. It is thanks to the works of Carpaccio that historians have learned what the bridge looked like in the 15th century. It is depicted in the painting “The miracle of the relic of the cross on the Rialto Bridge” (1494).
William Shakespeare mentions it in his play “The Merchant of Venice”, written a few years after its completion. In paintings by Michele Mariescke, Francesco Guardi, William Turner and Grigory Gagarin we recognize the Rialto Bridge as it has come down to us.
The stairs between the benches on the bridge The stairs to the bridge
The nearby fish and grocery markets open at 8am. The cafes adjacent to the bridge offer coffee and snacks. The souvenir shops on the bridge itself sell very expensive goods, but there is plenty to see: jewelry, leather goods, and souvenirs. In front of you – of course, for a fee – can make a mask. About 7,000 tourists pass through here every day, so there are traffic jams. Watch out for your wallets, documents, be careful: pickpockets are operating on the bridge.
Now the Rialto Bridge is partially under restoration. Last time it was repaired about thirty years ago, but every year it passes through more than 20 million people, and the steps are covered with cracks. In 2011, several columns on the railing of the bridge collapsed. Most of the money was raised by patrons. The restoration is scheduled to be completed in 2016.
Rialto Bridge. Venice. Italy
The world-famous Venice is practically a historical open-air museum. Old buildings and numerous water channels, which are often used as transport routes, are the hallmarks of the city.
The largest canal, which runs through the central part of the city, and so called the Grand Canal (or Grand Canal). If there are canals, then naturally there are bridges. There are four pedestrian bridges across the Grand Canal. The oldest, most famous and most recognizable of them is the Rialto Bridge (in the original Ponte Di Rialto). It is located approximately in the middle of the Grand Canal at its narrowest point.
Rialto Bridge on the map
- Geographic coordinates 45.438038, 12.335962
- Distance from the Italian capital of Rome about 400 in a straight line
- To the nearest airport Venice Marco Polo 8 km to the north
History of Rialto Bridge
The crossing here was first erected in 1181. It was an ordinary pontoon bridge, and was then called Ponte de Moneta because the Mint was located on the east side of it. There is also a version that the bridge was so called because there was a charge for crossing it.
The bridge became popular. On its eastern side began to develop a market, which was called Rialto. Gradually the bridge itself became known as the Rialto Bridge.
The walkability of the bridge increased, so the pontoon bridge was replaced by a wooden bridge on piles. It was built in 1255. But the wooden construction was not reliable enough. The bridge broke down more than once. In 1310 it was burnt out during the mutiny. Then it was restored. On the bridge appeared a mechanical central part, which could dilate, allowing the passage of large vessels.
From ancient paintings we can judge what the Rialto Bridge was like
In 1444, while the ship of the Marquis of Ferrara (not the name or brand of the car, but the region of Italy) was passing through the canal, so many people gathered on the bridge that it collapsed, unable to withstand the weight.
Reasonably there were proposals to build a reliable stone bridge. The first draft of such a crossing appeared in 1503, but the idea did not progress beyond that, until in 1524 the wooden bridge collapsed again. It was of course rebuilt again, but the government was determined to build a stone bridge.
A contest for the best design of the future bridge was announced. It was attended by famous architects, there was even the great Michelangelo himself. But in 1551 an elderly architect named Antonio De Ponte, almost unknown to anyone, won. His project compared favorably with the sketches of most architects. Antonio proposed a bridge with a single arch, while other architects insisted on a polyarch construction.
As conceived, the bridge had only one arch.
A very bold idea was met with skepticism by the other authors. Vincenzo Scamozzi – one of the venerable architects of the time – immediately declared that the bridge would quickly collapse. But the Rialto Bridge survived to this day exactly as Antonio De Ponte had conceived it. As a result, the bridge was built from 1588 to 1591.
Rialto Bridge in numbers
- Total length of the bridge – 48 meters
- arch height – 7.5 meters
- arch width – 28 meters
- Total height of the bridge about 20 meters
- width – 24 meters
Modern Rialto Bridge
The bridge has three pedestrian zones. Two on the edges and one (the widest) in the middle. In the center of the walkways, at the top of the bridge there are passageways to the adjacent zones. There are two rows of commercial pavilions on the bridge. In general, the Rialto Bridge resembles a small market right on the bridge.
Rialto Bridge. View from height
Since the 15th century there were market stalls on the bridge, the rent from which went for the maintenance of the bridge. This tradition is still alive today. Now there are 24 outlets on the bridge.
There are always a lot of tourists here. On both sides of the bridge are many cafes, hotels, and just beautiful old places. For example, the Catholic Church Chiesa di San Giacomo di Rialto, the Church of San Salvador (Chiesa di San Salvador, not to be confused with the island of San Salvador).
Gondoliers whizz back and forth along the Grand Canal, delighting travelers and visitors alike. One of the best views of the ancient city and its waterways is from the Rialto Bridge.
Gondoliers often take tourists under the Rialto Bridge