Tourist Mistakes | Free Sights
Bridges of Venice, Italy
Venice has more than 400 bridges that bind its nearly 120 islands into a cohesive city center.
As we point out in our "Canals of Venice" article, the city of Venice, Italy isn't just one chunk of land: It's a cluster of nearly 120 islands that lie roughly 4 km or 2.5 miles off the shores of mainland Italy in the Venetian Lagoon.
The islands of the centro storico, or historic center, are connected by nearly 400 footbridges that have been built--and, in some cases, replaced repeatedly--over the last millennium. Footbridges also exist on other islands in the Comune di Venezia or Munipality of Venice, such as Murano, Burano, and the Lido di Venezia (Venice's beach resort).
Most of Venice's footbridges are high enough to allow clearance for boats--in some cases, only for small boats such as delivery barges and gondolas, and in other cases for water buses and larger boats such as workboats with hydraulic cranes.
As you walk around Venice, you'll encounter a variety of bridge types:
The vast majority of bridges in Venice are fairly low, making them manageable for frail or slow-moving pedestrians. A few, such as the bridges that cross the Grand Canal, have more steps and are best avoided by visitors with mobility problems.
The Rialto Bridge is the best-known bridge in Venice. The current structure dates back to 1591, when it was opened as a permanent replacement for previous bridges (:including a boat bridge) that spanned the Grand Canal. It lies at the midpoint of the Canal Grande and provides a connection between two of the city's busiest pedestrian thoroughfares.
BELOW: An Alilaguna Linea Arancio airport boat travels up the Grand Canal after passing under the Rialto Bridge.
BELOW: Transit passengers enjoy sheltered open-air views from the stern of an ACTV Line 1 vaporetto.
BELOW: The Rialto Bridge offers excellent views from the walkways on either side of the structure.
BELOW: The main or center walkway of the Ponte di Rialto is lined with shops. (In addition to providing revenue to the city, the facing rows of shops provide structural support for the bridge.)
BELOW: Venetians get annoyed when tourists use the Rialto Bridge as an adventure playground, even when the visitors don't slip and fall.
In the last few decades, city officials discussed replacing the Accademia Bridge with a permanent structure, but public resistance (combined with the high cost of a new bridge) led them to renovate the existing bridge instead.
BELOW: A No. 1 vaporetto passes under the renovated and redecorated Accademia Bridge.
BELOW: A visitor looks toward St. Mark's Basin from the Accademia Bridge. (The palazzo on the left side of the picture houses the Hotel Galleria, which is one of the few inexpensive hotels on the Grand Canal.)
BELOW: This view from the Accademia Bridge shows the Accademia vaporetto station, a self-propelled barge, and water taxis on the Grand Canal.
BELOW: The Accademia Bridge's wooden steps can be slippery on rainy days. If you don't have claws like Maggie, our late Bearded Collie (see her "Maggie in Venice" blog), hold onto the handrails.
BELOW: A visitor and his dog pose with the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute in the distance behind them. The basilica is at the eastern end of the Grand Canal, across from the Piazzetta and the Piazza San Marco.
The Ponte dei Scalzi (Venetian dialect for Ponte degli Scalzi), or Venezia Santa Lucia Railroad Station., is close to the western end of the Grand Canal, next to the
It offers quick access to the sestiere or borough of Santa Croce, and the walking route from the station to the Piazza San Marco via the Scalzi Bridge the Accademia Bridge is marginally less crowded than the main thoroughfare on the northern side of the Grand Canal.
BELOW: To reach the Ponte dei Scalzi, turn left as you leave the Venezia Santa Lucia Railroad Station. The bridge will be just ahead of you.
BELOW: The Ponte dei Scalzi is one of Venice's highest bridges, so prepare for some exercise if you're traveling with heavy or bulky luggage.
Ponte della Costituzione (Calatrava Bridge)
The fourth (and likely final) bridge over the Grand Canal is officially named the "Constitution Bridge," but nearly everyone in Venice calls it the Ponte di Calatrava orafter the Spanish architect who designed it.
The ultramodern bridge opened in 2008 and provides a quick walking route between the Venezia Santa Lucia Railroad Station and the Piazzale Roma (Venice's gateway for ACTV land buses, airport buses, land taxis, private cars, trams to the mainland, and the People Mover shuttle train to the Marittima cruise terminals and the Tronchetto parking garage.)
BELOW: The Ponte di Calatrava opened in 2008, so you won't find it on older printed maps.
BELOW: The bridge is modern in design, with a tubular steel truss and a glass parapet with bronze railings. The transparent walls let small children enjoy views of waterbus traffic to and from the busy Piazzale Roma vaporetto station.
BELOW: The Calatrava Bridge isn't too difficult to cross in good weather, thanks to low steps and a fairly gentle incline. However, the glass steps alongside the parapets can be slippery in the rain. In wet weather, it's safer to use the stone steps in the center of the bridge.
BELOW: Unfortunately, the Ponte di Calatrava is not accessible to wheelchairs. A gondola lift for wheelchairs was added shortly after the bridge opened, but it never worked reliably, and an Italian court ordered it removed in 2019. (The lower photo shows the abandoned lift covered with stickers in 2018.)
Most of the 400 or so bridges in Venice are local or neighborhood bridges across smaller canals called rii. You'll see their names carved into stone plaques mounted on neighboring palazzi and other buildings.
BELOW: Brick is the most common building material in Venice, and you'll see it on many of the city's bridges (nearly always with stone railings).
BELOW: Steps on brick or stone bridges are made of a rough paving stone or, in some cases, asphalt. Their edges are outlined in Istrian stone (a water-resistant white marble), which is also used in building foundations or to mark the edges of pavements alongside canals.
BELOW: Some bridges in Venice are made of steel, and others have wrought-iron railings instead of masonry parapets.
BELOW: Wooden bridges are less common than brick or stone bridges, but you'll find them all over the city. If you're prone to falls, be careful on their open treads: The steps often have metal edging that can stick up, credating a tripping hazard.
Model credit: Maggie the Bearded Collie of Maggieinvenice.com.
BELOW: In this photo, you can see a traditional stone bridge in the foreground and (on the other side of the Grand Canal) the entrance to theor .
BELOW: A handful of bridges in the city have been equipped with wedges that make it easier to haul shopping carts and strollers up and down the steps. This bridge is in Cannaregio, near a large Conad City supermarket.
BELOW: Venice's delivery men (we haven't seen any delivery women) wrestle their carts up and down bridges, often calling out warnings to pedestrians as they battle their way through crowded streets.
Spazzini or sanitation workers (lower photo) also confront Venice's bridges as they make their rounds.
BELOW: Gondoliers pose with a young visitor on a Venetian bridge.
BELOW: "I'm Just Sitting on a Bridge" might be Venice's answer to a Rolling Stones hit with a similar name. However, it's considered bad form, and many Venetians are justifably annoyed when tourists, students, local youth, and thoughtless Dachshunds block foot traffic by perching their bottoms on ponti.
BELOW: Rules or no rules, dog-loving Venetians probably didn't mind when this man let his best friend take a break on a bridge in hot summer weather.
BELOW: Cameras and bridges are an irresistible combination.
BELOW: Bridges can be slippery during Venice's infrequent winter snowstorms, but munipical workers are quick to scatter salt when bridges and pavements get icy.
BELOW: Not all bridges are on public thoroughfares. A handful of buildings are reached by private bridges.
BELOW: An old private bridge in Cannaregio shows what Venice's bridges looked like before parapets and railings were added in the last 200 years or so.
BELOW: A bride and groom pose for wedding photos on a bridge in the Venetian Ghetto.
BELOW: Theor Ponte dei Sospiri is one of Venice's most famous attractions. It was built in 1600 to connect the Doge's Palace (Venice's seat of government) with the neighboring prison.
These tourists are contemplating the bridge from the Piazza San Marco.on Venice's waterfront near the
BELOW: Tourists photograph flowers on a stone bridge with a railing of ornamental iron.
BELOW: A man communes with his dog on a bridge near the, the largest park in central Venice.
BELOW: Venice may be old, but it isn't frozen in time. This tubular steel bridge, which was added only a few years ago, connects Venezia Santa Lucia Railroad Station with the Cannaregio campus of . (It's used mostly by students who are commuting to classes from the mainland, but anyone can use it. You'll find the bridge at the end of Platform 1 in the railroad station.)
BELOW: Another modern bridge is the Calle Giazzo cantilevered steel walkway on the north side of Arsenale, Venice's historic shipyard. It faces the Venetian Lagoon and leads to a quiet, isolated corner of Venice that few tourists ever see.
BELOW: Love locks, the scourge of public-works departments around the world, show up occasionally on Venice's bridges.
Ponte della Liberta and Ponte della Ferrovia
BELOW: Not all of Venice's bridges are limited to pedestrians. The 4-km/2.5-milecar bridge (which is conjoined with the or railroad bridge) links central Venice to the Italian mainland.
Several of Venice's bridges reappear and disappear every year, while others come and go with the tides.
BELOW: Once a year, city workers install a temporary pontoon bridge from Dorsodoru to the island of La Giudecca during the Festa del Redentore or Feast of the Redeemer.
The bridge terminates in front of the Redentore Church on Giudecca, where a ceremony takes place and church members have a candy sale. (Later in the evening, the canal is packed with boats during a magnificent fireworks show.)
BELOW: Another temporary pontoon bridge connects the tip of Dorsoduro with the Piazza San Marco area during the Venice Marathon, which takes place in late October. (The bridge is for runners only.)
BELOW: Elevated wooden walkways called passerelle help Venetians and tourists keep their feet dry when acqua alta, or tidal flooding, brings lagoon water into streets and squares.
BELOW: Not all temporary bridges are official. This ad hoc elevated walkway, made from grocery pallets, provided access to a COOP supermarket on the Fondamente Nove during acqua alta.
Accessibility isn't Venice's strong point, but the city has made some efforts to compensate for the inadequacies of medieval urban design. (See our "Accessible Venice" article for more information and advice.)
BELOW: A couple of decades ago, the city installed wheelchair lifts on a number of busy bridges. Disabled visitors could borrow keys from the tourist office to use the lifts.
For various reasons (probably bad design and inadequate maintenance), most of the lifts quickly broke, and eventually the authorities decided to get rid of them.
A few decommissoned lifts were still around when we took these photos, and we've seen privately owned wheelchair lifts at the Palazzo Stern hotel and a handful of other locations around Venice.
BELOW: Only a few of Venice's bridges are wheelchair-accessible. This modern bridge (which may be Venice's tiniest) parallels an existing bridge just off the Cannaregio Canal. We're guessing that it was installed to accommodate students and staff at the growing Cannaregio campus of Ca' Foscari University, which isn't far away.
BELOW: A handful of Venice's bridges, such as theover the Cannaregio Canal, are equipped with half-steps on one side for the convenience of wheelchair users with companions, delivery people, and tourists with suitcases. (It's fairly easy to bump wheels over the rounded half-steps if your load isn't too heavy.)
A sign on the Ponte delle Guglie shows how to use the half-steps on the bridge, which has a modest 16% incline.
BELOW: For the last 20 years or so, ramps have appeared (and sometimes disappeared) on some of Venice's bridges, especially in tourist-friendly areas such as the waterfront east of the Piazza San Marco and upscale neighborhoods in Dorsoduro.
In past years, many of the ramps were taken down each year after thein late October, but lately the city has been less aggressive about hauling them away after the race.
BELOW: This ramp in Dorsoduro has obstacles to discourage bicycling and skateboarding by children. (Warning: Such activities are illegal for adults.)
Just like bridges in other cities, Venice's footbridges need to be overhauled or even replaced from time to time--not just for the convenience and safety of pedestrians, but also to update utility lines for water, gas, and Internet.
BELOW: One of the biggest bridge projects of recent years was a complete overhaul of thein the late 1990s, which gave the renovated bridge a new and more colorful livery.
BELOW: During another renovation project, thepeeked out from temporary walls as the Doge's Palace and the Palazzo delle Prigioni were gussied up.
BELOW: This bridge had its steps removed (one side at a time) during repairs. Workers then coated the structure underneath with a green goo and replaced or installed utility lines.
The top photo was shot through the fringe of a Venetian Republic flag. It shows how one side of the bridge is still in use while the other is torn up for utility work.
Also see: Canals of Venice, Italy
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