The Little Stone Bridge That Stood…

Venice’s elegant Rialto Bridge spreading her lacy petticoat across the Grand Canal

The single span Rialto Bridge is the oldest of four bridges straddling the Grand Canal in Venice.  Completed in 1591, this unique stone arch was built to replace the original wooden structure that had twice collapsed.  The bridge’s twin incline ramps meet to form a central portico which is lined with shops catering to Venice’s tourist crowd.  The bridge includes three separate walkways—two along the outside and one wider passageway down the center.  Its high arching design was intentional as ships required adequate space to pass under the bridge.  Some so-called “experts” predicted future ruin, but the regal Rialto has defied her critics to become the most famous—and most photographed—bridge in the city.

We visited the bustling Rialto district first thing on a Tuesday morning.  The Grand Canal teemed with activity as boats of every size and description jockeyed for position—loading and unloading freight, hauling passengers, or motoring to and from the lagoon.  Locals and tourists alike mounted the ancient stone steps of the Rialto Bridge as vendors set up kiosks and hawked their wares.  We had witnessed crowds and activity in other parts of the city, but the atmosphere in the Rialto district was different—businesslike and efficient.  Here and there a gondolier loitered; others deftly threaded their gondolas through the maze of watercraft on the canal.  This area is the oldest settled part of Venice and originally boasted exclusive shops, banks, and the fish market (which was later moved to the opposite side of the bridge to avoid assailing the noses of the bankers with less than appealing odors!).

I understand that the Rialto is scheduled to undergo restoration and cleaning in the near future—if work has not already begun.  Italy has employed innovative measures to fund its recent restoration efforts—seeking paid sponsorship by large businesses in return for free advertising during the work effort.  It is entirely possible, therefore, that the bridge will be shrouded in canvas for a period of time and bedecked with ads for Diesel, the Italian clothing company reported to be footing the bill for the restoration project.  Times, how they are a-changin’…


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