Unexpected Views – 725 Days in the Life of the Rialto Bridge

As promised in our first post in 2018, we are now setting out to show you more of the lively initiatives launched by Venetians and artists living and working here. Above all, and that’s a personal interest of mine, it will be visual gifts we receive from photographers and painters. Reflecting on landmark sights in Venice and seeing them through the eyes of a photographer wakes up and hones hidden skills. In that way, we gain access to the collective memory of this city.

A few days before Carnival will really take off in town, there’s still plenty of time walk around with your camera in hand, searching out views we take for granted and discovering that actually, they can’t be taken for granted. They are special gifts we can only watch now during the “low season” because it’s about those sites usually too crowded to stop during most of the year.

Today, we’ll start with a special place, the Rialto Bridge, the massive landmark bridge built from Istrian stone between 1855 and 1591 by Antonio Da Ponte. In a few days from now, it will be dubbed the bottleneck. You can already feel a hint of turmoil in the minds of Venetians, envisaging yet another onslaught of tourists and thinking over ways to avoid bottlenecks. While many tourists will arrive by vaporetto, others will walk towards the San Marco area, passing exactly here. This will be the second onslaught of the year the bridge has to stand, the first taking place on January 6 during the Regata delle Befane. Quite a number of cups of hot chocolate are distributed to the spectators on that day watching the race, and from the bridge, you simply get the best view.

The Rialto Bridge is a message from the former Venice telling more than a thousand words. It’s the most visual testament to the area in which it was built. While San Marco was the pride of the Venetian government, the ancient Market area boasted a sumptuous bridge, for which many a design were made before Antonio Canova was given the permission to build it – the wooden bridge crumbled in 1444. This bridge connected the two banks of the Venetian market and the merchants (= the market area) with the government (= the Doge’s Palace).

When we speak of market, we don’t just mean any fruit and vegetable market. The Rialto Market was the ancient trading center, set up in 421 AD if legends hold a grain of truth (and they usually do). That is, this market existed even before the onslaught of the barbarians caused the Roman Empire to fall in 476 AD. And speaking of trading, you can use this term exactly as we do in our times.

The Venetians are the ancestors of modern trading, those who first invented the practice, and they were literally seated at the Rialto Market protected by the Banco del Giro arcades, to be precise, doing business that was to change Europe: Ventures importing and exporting spices and other exotic merchandise were planned and negotiated here. Merchants and financiers, often the same families, started out here planning a venture that hopefully ended with barges delivering the goods to the Rialto Market. Here, next to the bridge, they were either sold on the spot or packaged, refined and sold to all countries of Europe and beyond. And there was this massive bridge, embodying the ancient merchant spirit of the Venetians.

So this is what you should know at the back of your mind when setting out to take pictures of this historically important area. Its significance can be very misleading, because today, we have forgotten most of what happened during 1,500 years of lively business. Today, we love the Rialto Market for its colorful array of fruit, spices, fish and vegetables and sincerely hope it will remain like this or even improve. Stopping and watching is a first step to learn more about history. For example, photography can help you focus, or rather, contemplate and let your imagination do the rest. Really getting to know Venice is letting your imagination run free, by the way.

The eyes of a photographer can teach a lot, especially those of Max Farina, photographer and architect who spent more than 725 days taking pictures of what must be every little detail of the bridge and views from it.

His project is called Rivus Altus, meaning high water, which was the original name of the marketplace. It was here that ground was stable enough to build and the Canal Grande, a prolongation of the river Brenta, was deep enough for barges to arrive from all directions. Currently, you can visit Max Farina’s exhibition at Galleria Arte Spazio Tempo in Campo Ghetto Novo. In fact, it’s one of the stops of my Secret Carnival Walk which I will publish later this week.


RIVUS ALTUS – 10.000 frammenti visivi dal ponte di Rialto a Venezia from maxfarina on Vimeo.

Max Farina, with these images of the bridge and the views from the bridge, takes us back and forth between the past and the present. It’s really about Venezia da toccare, touching Venice, so to say. Touching ancient Venice in unexpected views made from a puzzle consisting of 10,000 images and perhaps finding some missing links.

Read more about Max Farina on the Farina Zero Zero Webpage. Here is the website of the Arte Spazio Tempo Gallery in which the exhibition takes place until 13 February 2018. Follow Rivus Altus on its website, on Instagram and on Facebook. You can take a look at the book here. We would like to thank Max Farina for providing us images and information for this article. This is no sponsored content and opinions are our own. 

PS: Talking about unexpected views, can you recognize this one where I’m standing at the bottom of the Rialto Bridge, with the market area and Campo San Giacomo di Rialto behind me and the Naranzaria to the left? Look how beautifully and deserted it looks in January :-)

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  • I have such happy memories of exploring the area around the Rialto Market, eating cuttlefish and polenta at a beautiful cafe alongside the canal just off the Bridge, and of course, my favorite shrine to the Virgin at the bottom of the Bridge steps. Wonderful post, and as usual, makes me long to return.

    • I also love this area, so beautiful to take the sun in winter !! Thank you, hope you can return to Venice soon !