Crossing Grand Canal, Venice Designer/Engineer Antonio da Ponte Completed 1591 Span 89 feet (27 meters)

Material Marble Type Arch

The Rialto is the most beloved bridge in a city of bridges.

Venice, that most improbable and fantastic of cities, is cobbled together with bridges of every size and description and has more bridges per square mile than anywhere else. Here one finds bridges with names such as the Bridge of Fists, Bridge of Straw, Bridge of the Honest Woman, Bridge of Courtesy, Bridge of Humility, Bridge of Paradise, Bridge of Sighs, as well as the Little Bridge, the Long Bridge, and the city’s best known bridge, the Rialto Bridge.


At the narrowest stretch of the Grand Canal is the Rialto, the commercial heart of the city, where residents and tourists mingle. The bridge therealways called by the Venetians the Ponte di Rialto, to distinguish it from the districtis one of many that have crossed the canal over the centuries. The earliest was a pontoon bridge built in 1173. The next, constructed of wood, was destroyed during the Tiepolo uprising in 1310. The weight of the crowd thronging to see the marriage of the Marquis of Ferrara in 1444 made short work of the next. It was replaced by a grand wooden bridge with shops and a central drawbridge that stood until the middle of the sixteenth century, when the decision was made to rebuild it in stone.

A competition to design the bridge elicited proposals from the pantheon of Renaissance artists, including Michelangelo, Jacopo Sansovino, and Andrea Palladio. Palladio’s proposal for a five-arched colonnaded bridge was published in his Four Books of Architecture (Quattro Libri dellArchitettura, 1570) and inspired a host of imitators (see here). In the end, the commission went to the appropriately named, lesser-known architect Antonio da Ponte, who, with his nephew Antonio Contino, built the single-arch marble bridge between 1588 and 1591. Two rows of shops and a center roadway are concealed within its arcades. The bridge has survived floods, earthquakes, and ridicule; it is mocked to this day by the classically minded for being lumpy, awkward, a white elephant. Many painters, however, fondly depicted it, including Canaletto (1697-1768). A beloved symbol of Venice, the Rialto Bridge is an icon so enduring that its actual appearance has little influence on the passion people feel for it. One of the great moments of the Grand Canal occurs when you swing around the bend beside the fish market and see the Rialto there before you, precisely as you have imagined it all your life.


Venice’s Bridge of Sighs, so called because wailing prisoners were taken over it into the adjacent prison, was designed by da Ponte’s nephew Antonio Contino.

The bridge depicts the Annunciation: on the left-hand side of the arch is the angel Gabriel; on the other, the Virgin Mary receives news of the imminent birth of Jesus Christ. In The Stones of Venice (1853), John Ruskin singles out the portrayal of Mary as the bridge’s loveliest detail because of the way she lies on a flat plane, anchored firmly in the terrestrial. The keystone, not pictured, portrays a dove representing the Holy Spirit.

A decrepit elevated rail line in Manhattan was repurposed as the High Line, a park that overlooks the Hudson River.

The placement of stepping-stone bridges like this one at the Heian Jingu shrine in Kyoto, Japan, appears both random and fortuitous.

Bridge and landscape are perfectly integrated in Meguro Drum Bridge and Sunset Hill (1857), a woodblock print by the Japanese master Hiroshige.

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