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Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto), Venice Travel Guide

Ponte di Rialto Bridge Venice ItalyIntroduction

Whenever Venice is mentioned, one of the most common images that come along with it would be that of a lovely curved bridge that spans a body of water. This is the Rialto Bridge, or in Italian, Ponte di Rialto. It is one of the four bridges in the city that crosses the Grand Canal, and it is also the oldest.

It all started in 1097 when Rialto was finally recognized as the main financial and commercial center of Venice, and it also officially became a district as the main markets moved to this location. Originally, in order to provide access to these markets, a floating bridge made of boats was first constructed, which was then followed by a wooden bridge in 1264 in order to accommodate increased traffic.  Unfortunately, over the centuries, several collapses occurred and the bridge had to be rebuilt several times.

Ponte di Rialto Bridge Venice Italy - tourists and shopsLater, in the late 1500s, we finally get the stone version of the bridge that we know now thanks to Antonio da Ponte who oversaw its construction. The stone bridge followed the style of the old wooden one, with two inclined ramps with shops on each side (so that rent could be charged), with a raised middle in order to allow bigger watercraft to pass underneath.

Though considered to be an audacious feature at the time with many believing that this will cause yet another collapse, this middle portion was actually important because during the time that Venice was a maritime power, many large vessels arrived at Rialto to unload its cargo of silk, spices, metal, precious stones, and textiles, and it was also here that many of the Venetians gathered to trade. It was also a main fish port, and to this day, one of the oldest fish markets in Italy still stands and continues to conduct brisk business.

The Rialto Bridge consists of three main paths, and those are the wide central walkway that is flanked by shops, and two more which are located along the bridge’s railings. It is decorated with stone reliefs that depict the city’s patron saints St. Mark and St. Theodore, and the Annunciation.

Nowadays, the Rialto Bridge is considered one of the marvels of architecture and engineering from the Renaissance period, and is hence, a major tourist attraction, with millions of tourists crossing it every year. It is also a favorite spot among photographers as it offers fabulous views of the Grand Canal, and is a favorite subject among artists.

What to See

  • The Rialto Bridge is considered as one of the best spots in the city of Venice to take photos from, thanks to its sweeping views of the Grand Canal. It is particularly beautiful at sunrise or sunset.
  • If you need one-stop shopping and you’re lost in Venice’s winding streets, just look for one of the many signs that are plastered on walls or sign posts that will direct you to the Rialto Bridge. Once there, the immediate vicinity is filled with all sorts of souvenir shops, boutiques, and specialty stores. If you’re looking for food to cook yourself, there are also nearby markets that sell meats, fresh produce, and especially fresh seafood (arrive before sunrise if you want the freshest catch of the day)!
  • The bridge itself is home to many jewelry stores, so if you’re looking to buy a piece or two, this is a great place to start.

Tips and Advice

  • There will be a LOT of tourists on the bridge, either shopping at the main path, or trying to take pictures from the railings on either side. Be ready to dive into a crowd, especially at around noon, and during the summer.
  • When using the water buses, or vaporetto, take note that Rialto is one of the main stops.
  • There are a lot of restaurants and cafes near the Rialto Bridge, but take note that the view that comes with your meal will also come with a price tag. If you’re on a budget, use the bridge as a starting point, and dive into the other nearby streets, just a few steps away from the bridge, to find a cicchetti shop (or “bàcari”) where you can get these bites of authentic Venetian cuisine for a mere one to two euros a pop. (Note: cicchetti can be likened to tapas)

Ponte di Rialto bridge Venice Italy - grand canal at blue hour