Public or private bridge – the story of five bridges in Venice

Private bridges in Venice? So what kind of bridges are there, and what do they look like? This is a short guide to present to you the various types of the current 435 bridges around town: public and private bridges, two bridges connecting Venice with the terra ferma. Wood and stone bridges. Bridges with rails and without (ponti sena bande). Straight and contorted bridges (ponti storti). Permanent and provisional bridges …. But then our bridges represent an imperative feature of the tessuto urbano – the urban landscape.  Click here for a list containing all 435 bridges in Venice.

Even buildings sometimes are erected above a bridge – this is a canal running below the Piazzetta, which is connecting with Rio del Palazzo, running just behind the Giardini Reali.

Bulding the “bridgescape” in Venice all began in the 6th century AD with simple wooden passerelle, bridges that were simple and considered private, connecting houses with their orchards across the swampy islets. Later on, in the 14th century, the bridges in Venice amounted to 450. Their number fell later on, as many canals (rii) were filled in after the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797, to enlarge the pedestrian zones (they are called rio terrà in Venetian = filled-in canal). And within 100 years, abouth one tenth of the town area (40,000 m²) became filled in, and the number of bridges fell.

Rio del Palazzo behind the Giardini. From here, you can see the Campanile from an unusal angle.

The bridges were somewhat makeshift right from the beginning – as the most important feature were the rii, the canals, just image the 10,000 gondolas about town in the 14th century !!

The best-known provisional bridge in Venice, made in wood and erected in 1854: Ponte dell’Accademia, crossing the Grand Canal

When bridges were finally included in the townscape in the late 12th century, it was noticed that dead-ends of the alleys (calli) were not really opposite each other, so sometimes bridges became works of art that connected the two sides of a canal in a very inventive manner. 

A wide bridge crossing Rio di San Lorenzo which discharges into the Riva degli Schiavoni. Rails are in Istrian marble stone, just like at the Ponte della Paglia next to it.
Massive and ornamental stone railings (marmo d’Istria) of the Ponte della Paglia, between the Doge’s Palace and the Prison Building (Palazzo delle Prigioni)

And you, unconsciously, as a visitor may feel the effect of that special feature of our tessuto urbano even today. If you walk through Venice for hours on end, always concentrated and on the look-out for something, you feel this effect, later on, rather in your feet and body, and as one of our guests put it, that he felt like he had been through a minor mountain hike. How many bridges would you guess you cross on an average afternoon out here in Venice??

Bridges can be rather low sometimes, and canals rather narrow … this one is also next to our house, crossing Rio dell’Osmarin
Bridge crossing Rio dell’Osmarin, Istrian white marble stone, wrought-iron rail. Look how bridges enhance the colors of the water, playing with light and shade

Next to our house, the two eldest bridges of Venice are located: It is the Ponte della Canonica and the Ponte di San Provolo. Here is a picture of Ponte della Canonica, connecting the always crowded Campo San Filippo e Giacomo with Piazza San Marco in a larger sense. I made this picture late at night because usually the bridge is so crowded.

Ponte della Canonica (canonica meaning parish house), towards Campo S. Filipo e Giacomo
Ponte San Provolo, seen from Fondamenta Vin, the bridge crosses the Rio di San Provolo

These first two public bridges were built in 1170 (in wood, at first) to enable the procession of the Doge and his entourage to make their walk on Easter Monday from Palazzo Ducale to the Monastery of San Zaccaria (by making this visit regularly each year on the Pasquetta day, the doge expressed his gratitude to the nuns of the monastery who had given their orchard (brolo) to the Doge where the Doge’s chapel (later: Basilica di San Marco) was built. And the third public bridge built in Venice, just 10 years later in 1180, was – guess – the Rialto bridge …

Rialto Bridge today …

So even today, the dicotomy between public and private bridges remains, and here is an example where a private bridge leads from the Fondamenta del Rimedio (sestiere di Castello) crossing the Rio del Rimedio, towards the Hotel Ca’dei Conti – and it is still declared “Private Bridge” as you can read in the sign below …

 

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4 Comments

  1. Nice article! Have a look at my Venice Bridges blog, at venice100bridges.blogspot.com. In April I put a challenge to myself: To cross 100 bridges in Venice in one day. My blog is the story of those 100 bridges! All the best, Charl.

  2. Thank you, also for forwarding me the link to your blog site. Now that is quite a challenge, crossing these 100 bridges. I see you are preparing a book too, just as I am doing with my topics I am describing here on my blog. I look forward to following you from now on and have created a link from my blog to yours. Best, Iris

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