With its markets, ‘osterie' and artisanal ‘botteghe', the ancient and picturesque neighbourhood of Rialto reveals one of the most authentic sides of Venice.
Rialto Bridge is one of the most famous and widely photographed landmarks of Venice. Not only the undisputed icon of postcards and ‘selfies', 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 ‘ombra de vin' or a ‘cicheto', or looking to make a purchase from one of the innumerable artisanal ‘botteghe' that line its ‘calli' and ‘campielli' and 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. The daring but scenically impact-making new design (1591) submitted by Antonio da Ponte 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.
THE FAMOUS MARKET
Currently Venice's market par excellence, it is divided into the Pescaria, where fish caught in the lagoon are sold, and the Erbaria, whose vendors sell only the freshest, seasonal fruit and vegetables.
Although a visit to this market means elbowing one's way among throngs of Venetian shoppers, the market nevertheless boasts two gems of historic and artistic interest: a loggia dating back to 1907 featuring a blaze of maritime and symbolic decorations, including a number of esoteric elements that are mixed in with the fish, lobsters and octopi sculpted on the capitals of its colonnade. More attentive visitors will also notice a marble plaque embedded in one of its red brick facades, which shows regulations set centuries ago for minimum allowable sizes for lagoon fish.
FOR SHOPPING ADDICTS
However, Rialto also means shopping. While strolling through the ‘rione's' tiny streets or when crossing its bridge, you'll come across several unusual shops that are imbued with the atmosphere of a bygone era.
These include antique shops, artisans' workshops, old book binding shops where books are still bound according to timehonoured tradition, and jewelry stores selling original creations made from Murano glass beads. On the other hand, those in search of an amazing experience, should head to the old post office which now houses the recently opened T Fondaco dei Tedeschi, a lavish, highend shopping center and a magnificent feat of architecture that has been updated to brilliantly balance the old with new. The building boasts a marvelous terrace offering visitors a 360-degree view over Venice.