A walk through romantic canals to discover Venice’s countless bridges
(by Zairon, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)
This is the oldest bridge among the four that cross the Grand Canal (the others are: the Academy Bridge, the Bridge of the Barefooters, and the Constitution Bridge).
According to the chronicles, the first passage over the Grand Canal was a pontoon bridge. A proper bridge, resting on wooden poles, was built by Nicolò Barattiero under the doge’s rule of Sebastiano Ziani or Orio Mastropiero (second half of the 12th century) and took the name “Coin’s Bridge,” since, at the eastern end of the work, stood the ancient mint. According to Andrea Dandolo’s Chronicon, the event took place in 1264 under the dogate of Renier Zen (1252-1268). The growing importance of the Rialto market on the eastern bank of the canal increased traffic on the floating bridge. Around 1250, it was replaced by a structural wooden bridge. The structure consisted of two inclined ramps that joined at a movable central section, which could be raised to allow the passage of taller ships. Given its close association with the market, the bridge changed its name to Rialto Bridge. In the first half of the 15th century, two rows of stores were built along the sides of the bridge; rental income, collected by the State Treasury, contributed to the maintenance of the bridge.
In 1310 the bridge was damaged during the retreat of insurgents led by Bajamonte Tiepolo. In 1444, however, it collapsed under the weight of the large crowd gathered to witness the passing of the procession of the bride of the Marquis of Ferrara.
In 1503 the construction of a stone bridge was proposed by several designs. The first project was executed in 1514 by Fra’ Giovanni Giocondo to rebuild the Rialto market. Unfortunately, another collapse occurred in 1524. In 1551 the Venetian authorities issued a proclamation for rebuilding the bridge. A commission of three was appointed, consisting of Antonio Cappello, Tommaso Contarini and Vettor Grimani. At the beginning of 1554, other designs were submitted by the most famous architects of the time, but it was not until the end of the 16th century that Doge Pasquale Cicogna announced a competition. Proposals arrived from architects such as Jacopo Sansovino, Andrea Palladio, and Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, but all proposed a classical approach with many arches. Two proposals exist by Palladio: both involved the rationalization of the entire Rialto area, with two trading holes at the heads of the bridge. The competition was proposed again in 1587, and Vincenzo Scamozzi and Antonio da Ponte participated: Da Ponte prevailed; his design was chosen, on June 9, 1588, because he proposed only one arch.
The work was completed in 1591 with the help of architects Antonio and Tommaso Contin (from Besso, now a district of Lugano), who were his grandsons, as they were sons of his son-in-law Bernardino Contin.