The Rialto Bridge is one of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy. The Rialto became an important district in 1097, when Venice’s market moved there, and in the following century a boat bridge was set up across the Grand Canal providing access to it. This was soon replaced by the Rialto Bridge, it is the oldest bridge across the canal.
The first dry crossing of the Grand Canal was a pontoon bridge built in 1181 by Nicolò Barattieri. It was called the Ponte della Moneta, presumably because of the mint that stood near its eastern entrance.
The development and importance of the Rialto market on the eastern bank increased traffic on the floating bridge, so it was replaced in 1255 by a wooden bridge. This structure had two inclined ramps meeting at a movable central section, that could be raised to allow the passage of tall ships. The connection with the market eventually led to a change of name for the bridge. During the first half of the 15th century two rows of shops were built along the sides of the bridge. The rents brought an income to the State Treasury, which helped maintain the bridge.
Maintenance was vital for the timber bridge. It was partly burnt in the revolt led by Bajamonte Tiepolo in 1310. In 1444 it collapsed under the weight of a crowd watching a boat parade and it collapsed again in 1524.
The idea of rebuilding the bridge in stone was first proposed in 1503. Several projects were considered over the following decades. In 1551 the authorities requested proposals for the renewal of the Rialto Bridge, among other things. Plans were offered by famous architects such as Jacopo Sansovino, Palladio and Vignola, but all involved a Classical approach with several arches, which was judged inappropriate to the situation. Even the great Michelangelo was considered as designer of the bridge.
The present stone bridge, a single span designed by Antonio da Ponte, was finally completed in 1591. It is remarkably similar to the wooden bridge it succeeded. Two inclined ramps lead up to a central portico. On either side of the portico the covered ramps carry rows of shops. The engineering of the bridge was considered so audacious that architect Vincenzo Scamozzi predicted future ruin. The bridge has defied its critics to become one of the architectural icons of Venice.
The bridge has a single span, and is supported at either end by thousands of buried wooden piles. It is surmounted by a double row of small arched shops, crowned with larger central arches allowing pedestrians to pass from the central shopping lane to the panoramic external steps. The bridge is decorated with stone reliefs towards the base. On one side is the scene of the Annunciation, and on the other are Venice's two patron saints, St. Mark and St. Theodore.
Map of Rialto Bridge
The Rialto is in the San Polo district of Venice, joining it to San Marco. It's a central point both within Venice and along the Grand Canal. The vaporetto stop 'Rialto' is alongside, and the bridge is easily accessible on foot from pretty much anywhere in Venice. Wherever you go you'll signs pointing you to the Rialto. It's about ten minutes' walk from St. Mark's.