In Venetian architecture

Bridges in Venice are all unique and different from each other.

The Rialto bridge

Just consider the old Rialto bridge, a draw-bridge in wood as it shows in Vittore Carpaccio, the Miracle of the Cross at the Accademia Galleries, bustling with its multiethnic life before it was reconstructed as it is nowadays

Rialto bridge, Vittore Carpaccio, Accademia Galleries, Venice

Rialto bridge, Vittore Carpaccio, Accademia Galleries, Venice

Rialto Bridge by Antonio da Ponte, 1591, Venice

The Bridge of Sighs

Or the baroque enclosed Bridge of Sighs for the prisoners with its form suggesting a human, scary face, with its square eyes and open mouth —and when you are inside, you discover in fact it is two passageways, two bridges splitting like a pair of scissors to reach different floors of the palace

The Bridge of Sighs by Antonio Contino, 1619, Venice

Inside the Bridge of Sighs in Venice built in 1619 by Antonio Contino

The Bridge of Constitution, also called “Calatrava”

And again the controversial bridge of the Constitution, designed by Santiago Calatrava, with its futuristic look in semi-transparent glass and red iron resembling the spinal chord of a gigantic whale —the only bridge which is most of the times used for one third of its surface, as many prefer to walk just in the concrete central part, carefully avoiding the rest considered too slippery.

Santiago Calatrava, The Bridge of Constitution, 2008, Venice

The whale-like skeleton of the Bridge of Constitution by Santiago Calatrava, 2008, Venice

Walking in the centre of the Bridge of Constitution by Santiago Calatrava, 2008, Venice

Bridges in Venice for tourists and Venetians

Bridges in Venice are for visitors what a nice flower is for a bee. Who has never taken a photo of a bridge, or of someone on a bridge… or shot a couple of pics from the top of a bridge? Especially before Covid19, the space on top of bridges in Venice often became a conflictual ground between residents that saw their way obstructed by a selfie stick and the visitor’s uncurbed desire to pin down a different perspective while above water.

The “Toletta”

When talking about bridges in Venice, it is surprising for most to realise there were none for a long time. And if there were, they consisted of simply a wooden board used to cross a canal when needed. Have you ever wondered what the toponym “Toletta” at one of the independent bookshops of Venice means? Far from what you think, the street was called after “piccola tola”, small wooden board used as a removable bridge for the waterway nearby.

“Toletta” is the name of this bridge in Dorsoduro, Venice

Pontoon bridges

If the first bridges in Venice didn’t appear before the 10th century, it is also true that for a long time it was still preferred to replace them with boats— and this still happens. So pontoon bridges such as the one built for the Redentore or Salute festivities or the one designed for King Henry the 3rd Valois are part of a long tradition. Not to mention the gondolas ferrying the Grand Canal, usually wrongly viewed as a folkloristic tradition, but in fact, man-powered and efficient replacements for a bridge.

Venice, Giudecca island, floating pontoon to the Redentore Church

Venice, Giudecca island, floating pontoon to the Redentore Church

A gondola ferrying across the Grand Canal, the “traghetto”, at San Tomà in Venice

Bridges in Venice with or without parapets?

If bridges in Venice could be replaced by boats, it’s also true that bridges became more and more important as pedestrians acquired a growing attention in the city’s urban space. Bridges were redesigned to help people walk and, underlining the distance from water, parapets were eventually added.

Metal Bridge designed by Enrico Gilberto Neville, 1866 known as “ponte Priuli”, Foundry in San Rocco, Venice

Detail of “ponte Priuli”, E. G. Neville, Venice

As a matter of fact, bridges were built without railings till the 18th century. The only bridge left in Venice where you notice the absence of side protection is the celebrated “ponte del chiodo” in Cannaregio. But you just need to watch the paintings by Canaletto, Gabriel Bella and many more to see what bridges used to be like. Why would you need parapets if you were not afraid of water? And think of railings, wouldn’t you find it hard to reach your boat docked aside?

A bridge without parapets in Venice, known as “ponte del chiodo”

Another viewpoint of the only bridge without parapets in Venice, known as “ponte del chiodo”

The railway bridge to Venice (1846)

The bridge however that changed Venice most is for sure the railway bridge. When in 1846 the bridge was completed, access to Venice diverted almost 180 degrees. Nowadays what used to be the “backdoor” of the city as Thomas Mann described it in “Death in Venice” is the main hub together with Piazzale Roma, the parking area for cars and buses. If you think these were all convent and monasteries areas… Not just. It is thanks to the railway bridge that Venice has fresh water to drink: the water aqueduct runs in fact underneath.

Railway Bridge connecting Venice to the mainland, 1846

The Bridge dedicated to Valeria Solesin

The last bridge to have been built in Venice is my favourite. A strongly symbolic one. It lies next to the railway station and connects it to the San Giobbe university area, at the end of the Canal of Cannaregio. University students of Economics and Business Administration, university professors and administration employees of Ca’ Foscari cross it every day. 

The one entitled to Valeria Solesin is the 439th bridge in Venice. It was inaugurated in 2017 to remember Valeria Solesin, a young researcher killed in the terrorist attack at the Bataclan Cafe in Paris on November 13th, 2015. The bridge is made in stainless steel, it’s designed to be accessible to people with disability, too, with a 5% slope, by Ati Sicop-Renzo Rossi Costruzioni-Xodo Costruzioni generali. And as if history were a loop, it’s the only bridge in Venice that can be lifted and turned, a traversing bridge.

Valeria Solesin Bridge in Venice, 2017

Valeria Solesin Bridge represents the essence of Venice, of course, as a place of dialogue among different cultures, but not just. Luciana Milani, Valeria’s mother, expressed an important wish when the bridge was opened. She reminded that together with her daughter, citizens of 20 different nationalities were killed in the Bataclan Cafe and that few European countries recognise the condition and protection of a terrorism victim. She said,

“I would love each of the victims were given a sign of recognition like this bridge in their own countries for a solidarity network.”

And she added:

“It would be great if the European Union could find a common way to protect all terrorism victims as European citizens, all with the same rights.”

by Luisella Romeo
registered tourist guide in Venice, Italy

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Showing 10 comments
  • Jenny Lebus

    I’m so glad to have read about Valeria’s bridge.

    • Reply

      It is, indeed, something to know about. I hope her mother’s wish to create a network of memorials dedicated to the victims of terrorism will be fulfilled.

  • David

    A fascinating blog on the bridges and the others are very interesting too.
    Very many thanks Luisella.

  • Johanne Minicucci

    I can never get enough of the bridges in Venice. Thank you for showing me some that I have yet to discover.

  • Mary Jane

    Luisella, I cannot get enough of your blog! Your perspective and insight into each topic you explore is opening my eyes to new ways to see Venice…I love this one on the bridges. I’m so glad we met last week on your virtual tour for Bold Spirit, cannot wait to meet you in person one day.

    • Reply

      Thank you, Mary Jane, for leaving such a lovely comment! A real pleasure to e-meet you! I am sure we will have a chance to explore Venice together for real, soon!

  • Anonymous

    .loved this post and definitely will be playing closer attention to bridges when we are there in May. Thank you, Luisella and I look forward to leaning more from,you.

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