The mo­nu­men­tal Rialto Brid­ge and its sur­roun­dings re­veal one of Ve­ni­ce's mo­st au­then­tic si­des.

Where Venice - - Contents - BY SI­MO­NA P.K. DA­VID­DI

A MO­NU­MEN­TAL LAND­MARK. The 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 and its na­me was chan­ged to the Rialto brid­ge.

A dark pe­riod fol­lo­wed. In fact, du­ring this ti­me, the brid­ge col­lap­sed and was da­ma­ged se­ve­ral ti­mes. 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. 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 lar­ger than its cur­rent coun­ter­part and sold exo­tic goods and spi­ces and pre­cious fa­brics.

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 ti­me-ho­nou­red 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 T Fon­da­co dei Te­de­schi, a la­vi­sh, hi­ghend de­part­ment sto­re 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.

A HUB OF COMMERCEThe Rialto Brid­ge is the di­vi­ding li­ne bet­ween the di­stric­ts of San Mar­co and San Po­lo. It is li­ned on bo­th si­des by shops, and in­clu­des 120 steps. Right, the por­ti­cos of the Rialto fi­sh mar­ket. Be­low, the Er­ba­ria mar­ket sel­ling fruit and ve­ge­ta­bles, and the Pe­sca­ria (fi­sh mar­ket).

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