STROLLING THROUGH RIALTO
With its markets, ‘osterie’ and artisanal ‘botteghe’, the ancient and picturesque neighbourhood of Rialto reveals one of the most authentic sides of Venice.
The monumental Rialto Bridge and its surroundings.
A MONUMENTAL LANDMARK. Rialto Bridge is one of the most famous and widely photographed landmarks of Venice. Not only the undisputed icon of postcards and 'seines', but also the oldest bridge in the city (until 1854 it was the only means of crossing the Grand Canal on foot). Located in the picturesque Rialto neighbourhood, it is a heady mix of shops, eateries and architecture, where the days are marked by the cries of the vendors of its famous, bustling market and by the comings and goings of Venetians and tourists who are either in search of a traditional 'osteria'or'bacaro'for an tombra de vin'or a 'cicheto', or looking to make a purchase from one of the innumerable artisanal 'botteghe' that line itsicalli'and tampiellitand flank both sides of the bridge. FROM HISTORY TO LEGEND. The history of this iconic bridge dates back to the year 1000 when it was built as a pontoon bridge at the canal's narrowest point. Due to increased traffic it was replaced with a wooden bridge in 1181, known as the'Ponte della Moneta' both due to the toll that people had to pay when crossing it and because the city's mint was located at its easternmost end. In 1250, its wooden piles were replaced by a mobile structure, a sort of drawbridge that allowed larger craft to sail under it, and its name was changed to the Rialto bridge, possibly due to its association with the nearby district of Rivalto, or'high bank A dark period followed. In fact, during this time, the bridge collapsed and was damaged several times. One such episode occurred in 1444 when the bridge collapsed under the weight of the crowd which had gathered to witness the marriage procession of the Marquise of Ferrara. It was only in 1588 that the Senate of the Serenissima decided to announce a competition to finally rebuild a stone bridge. Numerous renowned architects submitted their projects, including Sansovino, Vignola and Palladio (who actually designed two different versions). However the daring but scenically impact-making design submitted by the aptly named Antonio da Ponte was chosen. His bridge consisted of a single 22 meter stone arch span, supported by a broad rectangular deck carrying two arcades of shops and 'botteghe' fronting on three roadways. Legend has it that da Ponte was visited by Satan himself who, in exchange for his help, asked the architect to pledge the soul of the first person crossing the bridge to him. The architect thought that he would trick Satan by having a cock cross the bridge for the first time. However, on learning about this deception, Satan vindicated himself by tricking da Ponte's pregnant wife into crossing the bridge. Her child was stillborn, and according to legend, its soul wandered haplessly, for years, on the Rialto bridge, until a gondolier finally helped it to cross over to the other side. Even the famous street market boasts a storied past. In fact, historic documents testify to its presence way back in 1097 when it was much