The Historic Rialto Bridge in Venice

by vacationideaz
rialto bridge

Rialto Bridge or the Ponte di Rialto is the oldest bridge in Venice over the Grand Canal. An iconic landmark in the city, it was first constructed as a pontoon bridge in 1181. The present structure, a stone arch footbridge, goes back to the 16th century. It stands over the narrowest point over the Grand Canal, in the heart of Venice. The bridge has a width of 29.2 feet or 8.90 meters and a height of 24 feet or 7.32 meters, only the arch. You will find many restaurants and shops on the Ponte di Rialto.

The bridge has been rebuilt several times. It had to accommodate ships bringing in different products to Venice. In the morning, the locals come here for shopping – fresh fruits, vegetables, and fish. In fact, the bridge was constructed so that the Venetians could reach the Rialto market, which has been there for a long time.

Now, a symbol of the city, you will get very good views of the Grand Canal from the Ponte di Rialto. You will also see many gondolas here. It’s a wonderful place to take photographs, especially early in the morning or during sunset. You will also have fewer people at these times.

Rialto Bridge – Quick Facts

Ponte di Rialto16th century stone arch bridge in Venice over the Grand Canal
First ConstructedAs a pontoon bridge in 1181
Present BridgeConstructed between 1588 and 1591
Longest Span104.3 feet or 31.80 meters
Main AttractionsShops and restaurants, views of the Grand Canal

The Rialto Bridge goes by many names. It was initially called ‘Ponte della Moneta’ after the mint in its east. Its present name, Ponte di Rialto, is after the Rialto market, popular with locals and traders. It has also been called ‘Shylock’s bridge’, in the A Toccata of Galuppi’s poem by Robert Browning.

Rialto Bridge Construction

The first Rialto Bridge was constructed in 1181 at the narrowest point on the Grand Canal. It was a floating bridge. However, it became very popular, so a new, better bridge had to be constructed. A new wooden bridge came up in 1255. It had two ramps and a movable platform at the center, which could be raised so that ships could pass under the bridge. Shop licenses were issued to raise money for maintenance. Click this link for more information on the history of the Rialto Bridge.

The bridge you will now see is in Gothic style with curved arches. It is supported by 12,000 wooden pilings rooted deep in the canal bed below. The highest point of the bridge arches 7.5 meters and spans 48 meters.

Fish Market

There has been a fish market (Pescheria) at Ponte di Rialto since 1907, which sold fresh fish and other marine creatures. It was very popular with the locals. Many people, including chefs, would come here to source the produce.

You will still find many shops on the bridge, but hardly any fish, vegetables or fruits. Most of the shops now sell gift items and souvenirs of Venice for tourists. Prices, though, are on the higher side. Walk into the side streets and you will get better prices. There are also many restaurants on the bridge. The atmosphere is electric.

There is a fish market nearby every Friday morning. It also sells vegetables and fruits every day. You can go there for fresh produce.

Fondaco dei Tedeschi

German merchants who did business in Venice lived and worked in this prime location at the San Marco end of the Rialto Bridge. Venice paid for its rebuilding after a fire. Titian was employed to decorate the interiors. In return, Venice received money against all transactions. This used to be both the place of business and residence of the merchants. The merchants were not allowed to do any business outside the Fondaco.

See the façade on the right, facing the Grand Canal. There is a five-arched Portico in the middle. On the ground floor, there were shops and storage facilities, while the upper floors used to be the living quarters and offices.

Now the building houses a shopping mall with a rooftop platform. You can get good views of the city and the Grand Canal from here.

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