Venice, a city of wide piazzas and narrow streets, is famous for its intricate network of canals. Lined with glorious remnants of the city’s decadent Renaissance past, these canals and their 400 bridges have made the city a top tourist destination in the modern age. Venice lies in an enclosed bay bookended by the mouths of the Piave and Po Rivers – popular with Italian river cruises– and is fondly referred to as the City of Bridges. Here you can dip your toes into the water with my quick guide to Venice’s most fascinating historic bridges.
Ponte delle Tette
Our first bridge has a slightly murky past! In the fifteenth century the government of Venice permitted the city’s prostitutes to promote themselves by displaying their naked breasts from the windows of their lodgings. This canal was in one of the city’s red-light districts and so the crossing was named after the women who advertised there. Ponte delle Tette translates to ‘Bridge of Breasts’.
Ponte dei Sospiri
This beautiful white stone bridge has a sad but romantic history. Built to connect the Palazzo Ducale to the city prison, the link was used to transfer prisoners from court to cell. The limestone bridge has small windows with white bars. Named the ‘Bridge of Sighs’, legend has it that the condemned could have a last glimpse of sunlight and a last breath of fresh air as they crossed the canal before being incarcerated.
Speaking of a breath of fresh air, the Ponte dell’Accademia is one of the newer crossings in Venice. Constructed by Eugenio Mozzi in the 1800s, the Ponte dell’Accademia is the perfect spot to take in one of the most famous vistas in Venice – the view down the Grand Canal to the Salute Church. After taking a quick photograph, why not hire a gondola to help you explore some of the lesser known canals in the city?
Ponte di Rialto
This attractive mix of crossing and shopping mall can be found in the centre of the city surrounded by bustling markets including the famous Rialto fish market. The stunning construction stretches across the Grand Canal and continues the commercial traditions of the district as it is lined with small stalls selling glasswork, jewellery and clothing. There has been a connecting structure of some sort here for hundreds of years, though the first few were flimsy wooden drawbridges. The charming stone Ponte di Rialto we see today was put in place in the sixteenth century.
Ponte dei Pugni
‘Pugni’ translates in English to the word ‘fists’. This bridge is named after the violent confrontations that occurred here between the Nicolotti from San Nicolo and the Castellani from San Pietro di Castello. Rival gang members would try to hurl one another into the canal below watched by huge crowds of spectators. Canals back then weren’t quite as clean as they are today so falling in would not have been pleasant at all!
Venice makes a wonderful stop-off point for Italian river cruisestouring this area of Northern Italy. Full of old-world charm and thrilling tales of romance and mystery, Venice will not disappoint.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury river cruises and barge holidays throughout Europe. If you're looking for the most exciting itineraries for Italian river cruises European Waterways is an ideal choice. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.