The Rialto Bridge has a long history and it has seen various stages of development of Venice. Here are 10 interesting facts about this magnificent and popular bridge.
#1 It is the oldest bridge across the Grand Canal
The Grand Canal in Venice is 3800m long and makes a large reverse S shape through the central districts in Venice. Until Accademia Bridge was constructed in 1854, Rialto Bridge was the only place through which one could cross the canal on foot. Rialto Bridge is built on the narrowest point across the canal and connects the districts of San Polo and San Marco. As of today it is one among the four bridges across the Grand Canal.
#2 Rialto Bridge was built to provide access to the Rialto
For centuries the Rialto has been the primary financial and commercial center of Venice. It was in 1097 that the Rialto became an important district as Venice’s market moved there. To provide access to it a floating bridge was built which was called Ponte della Moneta. Due to increased traffic, it was replaced by a wooden bridge in 1264. Connection with the Rialto soon changed its name to Rialto Bridge or Ponte di Rialto.
#3 The history of Rialto Bridge is full of collapses
In 1310, there was an unsuccessful revolt to overthrow the Venetian council which was led by Bajamonte Tiepolo. Rialto Bridge was burnt while the rebels were retreating. In 1444, a crowd was watching a boat parade from the bridge during the wedding of marquis Ferrara and it collapsed under their weight. It collapsed again in 1524 for the final time.
#4 The present Rialto Bridge is built of marble
Due to frequent collapses, it was decided to build the Rialto Bridge in stone and a competition was held for its design. Beginning in 1524, many famous artists and architects, including Michelangelo, submitted designs for the bridge. Ultimately in 1588, the commission was awarded to Swiss engineer Antonio da Ponte who built the bridge in marble.
#5 There is a blood-relation between the two most famous bridges in Venice
It is interesting to note that Antonio da Ponte was the uncle of another famous Antonio: Antonio Contino, the architect of Venice’s second most talked about bridge – The Bridge of Sighs.
#6 The present Rialto Bridge is similar in design to its wooden predecessor
Da Ponte’s design of the marble structure has two sloped ramps leading to a central portico to allow the passage of tall ships. The design of the wooden bridge had two inclined ramps which met at a central section which was movable and could be raised to allow ships to pass through.
#7 It was thought that the bridge wouldn’t last long
Rialto Bridge is a single span bridge, i.e., it is anchored at each end with no support in the middle. The engineering of the bridge was considered very audacious and it was thought that it would crumble but it has silenced all its critics and is now considered an architectural marvel and an engineering achievement of the Renaissance period.
#8 It took three years to construct the Rialto Bridge
The construction of the present Rialto Bridge took three years because of unstable conditions. Funds needed for it came from various sources including a variation of a lottery. The Rialto Bridge was completed in 1591. It is 75 feet wide with the arch height of 24 feet and its longest span is over 94 feet long.
#9 It has inspired many artists
Rialto Bridge appears in many paintings with the most famous one being Miracle of the Relic of the Cross at the Ponte di Rialto by Italian Renaissance artist Vittore Carpaccio. The painting dates back to 1496, the time when the bridge was still in wood.
#10 It is laden with shops and it is one of the most popular tourist spots in Venice
The Rialto bridge has three paths: one wide central walkway which has shops on its either sides and two along the railings of the bridge. The capacity of the bridge pleased the business-minded Venetians which was one of the reasons for choosing Da Ponte’s design. The stone reliefs on the bridge depict the city’s patron saints St. Mark and St. Theodore and the Annuciation. Along with St Mark’s Square, Rialto Bridge is the most visited tourist spot in Venice.