Ponte di Rialto
The Piazza San Marco may be more famous, but the Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge) is the true heart of Venice. The current structure was built in just three years, between 1588 and 1591, as a permanent replacement for the boat bridge and three wooden bridges that had spanned the Grand Canal at various times since the 12th Century. It remained the only way to cross the Grand Canal on foot until the Accademia Bridge was built in 1854.
The Rialto Bridge's 7.5-meter (24-foot) arch was designed to allow passage of galleys, and the massive structure was built on some 12,000 wooden pilings that still support the bridge more than 400 years later.
The architect, Antonio da Ponte ("Anthony of the Bridge," appropriately enough), competed against such eminent designers as Michelangelo and Palladio for the contract.
The bridge has three walkways: two along the outer balustrades, and a wider central walkway leading between two rows of small shops that sell jewelry, linens, Murano glass, and other items for the tourist trade.
(Warning: The bridge consists primarily of steps, making it a challenge for tourists with strollers or wheelchairs.)
Over the centuries, the Ponte di Rialto has earned both praise and scorn from critics. Consider this description from Ian Littlewood's Venice: A Literary Companion:
In The World of Venice, Jan Morris paints an affectionate picture of the Rialto Bridge:
Reaching the Rialto Bridge:
It's hard to miss the Ponte di Rialto. From the train station or the Piazzale Roma, simply follow the signs to "Rialto." The same applies if you're walking from the Piazza San Marco. (Just head for the clock tower, cut through the arched passage, and follow the upscale shopping streets known as the Mercerie until you reach the Grand Canal, then turn right and walk two blocks to the bridge.)
Another option is to approach the bridge by vaporetto, or water bus. The No. 1 local stops at Rialto on its way up or down the Grand Canal; for information on other boats, see our Venice Vaporetto Routes article.
If you need a place to stay in the area, see the Rialto listings in our Venice Hotel Directions or check the maps in our illustrated article, Hotels on the Grand Canal.
More Rialto Bridge photos:
Old Venice meets New Venice in this photo of a package-delivery boat on the Grand Canal.
The Rialto Bridge's balustrades are packed with tourists and picture-takers on the Saturday of a holiday weekend.
Don't let the crowds discourage you--if you're patient, you can easily grab a spot along the railing.
The views from either side of the Rialto Bridge are spectacular, with a constant stream of boats and barges traveling up and down the Grand Canal.
On the inside of the bridge, within the double row of stone arches that provide much of the bridge's structural strength, shopkeepers sell jewelry and souvenirs from stalls that have catered to vistors and locals since Venice's heyday as the most important trading center in Southern Europe.
At night, the best views of the Rialto Bridge are from the No. 1 vaporetto. (Get a seat in the open stern area, or up front if you're on one of the older water buses with seating in the bow.)
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