Essential Architecture-  Venice

Rialto Bridge

architect

Antonio da Ponte

location

Venice, Italy 

date

1591

style

Italian Rennaisance

construction

stone

type

Bridge
 
 
The Rialto Bridge (Italian: Ponte di Rialto) spans the Grand Canal in Venice. It is the oldest bridge across the canal and probably the most famous in the city.

The first dry crossing of the Grand Canal was a pontoon bridge built in 1181 by Nicolò Barattieri. It was called the Ponte della Moneta, presumably because of the mint that stood near its eastern entrance.

The development and importance of the Rialto market on the eastern bank increased traffic on the floating bridge. So it was replaced around 1250 by a wooden bridge. This structure had two inclined ramps meeting at a movable central section, that could be raised to allow the passage of tall ships. The connection with the market eventually led to a change of name for the bridge. During the first half of the 15th century two rows of shops were built along the sides of the bridge. The rents brought an income to the State Treasury, which helped maintain the bridge.

Maintenance was vital for the timber bridge. It was partly burnt in the revolt led by Bajamonte Tiepolo in 1310. In 1444 it collapsed under the weight of a crowd watching a boat parade and it collapsed again in 1524.

The idea of rebuilding the bridge in stone was first proposed in 1503. Several projects were considered over the following decades. In 1551 the authorities requested proposals for the renewal of the Rialto Bridge, among other things. Plans were offered by famous architects such as Jacopo Sansovino, Palladio and Vignola, but all involved a Classical approach with several arches, which was judged inappropriate to the situation.

The present stone bridge, a single span designed by Antonio da Ponte, was finally completed in 1591. It is remarkably similar to the wooden bridge it succeeded. Two inclined ramps lead up to a central portico. On either side of the portico the covered ramps carry rows of shops. The engineering of the bridge was considered so audacious that architect Vincenzo Scamozzi predicted future ruin. The bridge has defied its critics to become one of the architectural icons of Venice.
 
The Rialto is an area of the San Polo sestiere of Venice, known for its markets and for the Rialto Bridge.

The area was settled by the ninth century, when a small area in the middle of the Realtine Islands either side of the Rio Businiacus was known as the Rivoaltus. Soon, the Businiacus became known as the Grand Canal, and the district became the Rialto, referring to only the area on the left bank.

The Rialto became an important district in 1097, when Venice's market moved there, and in the following century a boat bridge was set up across the Grand Canal providing access to it. This was soon replaced by the Rialto Bridge.

The market grew, both as a retail and as a wholesale market and warehouses were built. Meanwhile, shops selling luxury goods, banks and insurance agencies appeared and the city's tax offices were located in the area. The city's abattoir was also in the Rialto.

Most of the buildings in the Rialto were destroyed in a fire in 1514, the sole survivor being the Church of San Giacomo di Rialto, while the rest of the area was gradually rebuilt. The Fabriche Vecchie dates from this period, while the Fabbriche Nuove is only slightly more recent, dating from 1553.

Today, the area is still a busy retail quarter, with the daily Erberia greengrocery market, and the fish market on the Campo della Pescheria.

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