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Rialto Bridge in Venice

Rialto Bridge on Grand Canal of Venice: the history, the photographs and the paintings, the map and the information to reach it.

Rialto Bridge VeniceRialto Bridge Venice - Grand Canal Venice

The Rialto Bridge unites the two banks of the Grand Canal, which belong to the sestieri of San Polo and San Marco. Basically it is a must for all citizens and tourists visiting Venice unless you take the ferry in the nearby Fish Market to go to the other shore.
The Rialto Bridge is one of the four bridges that rise above the waters of the Grand Canal; the others are the Accademia Bridge, the Scalzi Bridge and the Constitution Bridge.

How to get to Rialto Bridge

The Rialto Bridge joins the sestieri of San Polo and San Marco in the Rialto area. The bridge area can be easily reached by boat along the Grand Canal, lines 1 and 2 with the Rialto stop. The bridge is 30 meters from the pier.

Architecture

The single-arched Rialto Bridge is supported by two side platforms in which 12 thousand wooden poles were driven. The white stone structure is divided into 3 flights of stairs divided by two rows with a barrel vault that house 24 shops. The shops above all stop to make room for round arches with pilasters on the sides and triangular tympanum with a mask in the middle. The Rialto Bridge has an arch measuring 28 meters, is 22 meters wide and has a height of 7.5 meters,

The stairways overlooking the Grand Canal feature a stone balustrade with dense columns below and some sculptural groups placed in the arches below. In the arcade to the south it houses an Annunciation with on the left the Archangel Gabriel, in the middle a Dove, on the right a Madonna, work by Agostino Rubini, pupil of Alessandro Vittoria. In the arch towards the Fondaco dei Tedeschi San Marco and San Teodoro by Tiziano Aspetti. Finally, the date of foundation of the city is engraved: April 25, 421.

The allegorical meaning is therefore clear: the Announcement of Gabriel to the Virgin of Christ's birth through the Holy Spirit brought by the Dove finds a parallel in the birth of Venice (right in the Rialto area the 25th of April 421) under the patronage of the patron saints of the city Teodoro and Marco.

How the Rialto Bridge was built

The construction of a stone bridge less problematic for maintenance and for the lower risk of fire damage, on 5 December 1587 the Senate appointed specific new administrators - who were then elected until 1596 - to preside over the construction of the Rialto Bridge in stone and with only one arch, established by decree on 7 and 23 January 1588. The Providers of the Rialto Bridge could act with necessary expropriations for the construction, establish the auctioning of the new shops of the bridge, treat the public funds of the Mint for the realization of the project.

In the preceding months of 1587 the old Ponte della Moneta was demolished and its shops dismantled, and the bulkhead in Riva del Ferro (bank of San Marco) was built. After having decided a slight deviation of the axis of the bridge towards the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, Antonio Da Ponte coordinated the beginning of the works from 19 March 1588.

In April the poles of the Ponte della Moneta had already been eradicated, the bottom of the Grand Canal was cleaned and bulkheads were built both in the water and on the ground to delimit the yard and keep the onlookers away.

The question of the foundations was important: quarry workers or burchieri da rovinassi e cavacanali were contracted, who, after having finished encircling a double-walled fence on the bank in the Grand Canal and having dried up the two areas of the future foundations, freed the bottom of the slime until arriving not far from the hard layer of caranto, an over-consolidated clay level that supports the entire city of Venice.

The shoulders of the bridge were then built: on the Rialto side the shoulder was 18 steps long (30.6 meters) of which 6 entered the bottom of the Grand Canal, on the San Bortolomio side it was 22 feet long of which 7 entered into Grand Canal. Within these shoulders, 6,000 elm poles were driven into each one up to a distance of 11 meters from the banks. These 11 meters were divided into three sectors of decreasing width inwards of 5, 4 and 2 meters which created a tooth profile, with unevenness of about 0.80 meters between one sector and another. This degrading towards the inside of the shoulder made the foundations of the neighboring buildings safer, which could have suffered collapse otherwise. The first sector towards the Grand Canal also had a crown made of larch poles longer than 0.70 m driven into the caranto.
The shoulder had a maximum depth towards the Grand Canal of 26 feet (about 9 m) from the mid-sea level of which 3.50 were occupied by elm poles. There remained 5.50 meters to be built above the edges thus created to reach the mid-sea level.

Da Ponte had the first stone laid on 9 June 1588 on the Rialto side; each stone was 4 feet (1.40 m) long, 2 (1.40 m) wide, 1.4 to 2 feet tall (from 0.50 to 0.70 m) and was Istrian stone, the more resistant to the salinity of the lagoon water and humidity (this is why it is found everywhere in Venice). It is said that given the enormous commission, each quarryman in the city worked for about 2 years to make the thousands of masegni needed. The stones were arranged with an inclination opposite to the arch of the Rialto Bridge, in order to contrast its strength, and locked by two rows of stones arranged horizontally. Arriving at an altitude of 3 feet from the mid-sea level the shoulder was covered with stones "valenghin", that is directed towards the center. At the beginning of August it was decided to build a palisade that encircled the Rialto basement from the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi to the Riva del Vin, with a depth at least equivalent to the foundations of the buildings behind the shore. A final row of oak poles was placed in the crown of the shoulder bathed by the Grand Canal.

In August 1588 it was passed to the opposite bank of San Bartolomeo starting to drive the elm poles and providing for the demolition of houses adjacent to the area of the shore. Repeating the outline of the Rialto shore, the works ended in March 1589.
On 5 September 1589 the Senate deliberated the measures of the Rialto Bridge confirming the calculations of Da Ponte, with 21 feet from the middle sea and 85 feet of light from shore to shore. The stones of the arch measured 4 feet (m. 1.40) in length and feet 1 ½ (m.0.51) in height and were arranged in a horizontal and vertical direction alternating between them. In May 1590 the arch was composed and passed to the colonnaded balustrade. In the same month the bas-reliefs of the two Annunciations signed by Agostino Rubini were arranged, meaning a direct correspondence between the Annunciation of Christ (25 March) and the birth of Venice (25 March 421).

Already between August and September of 1589 the two rows of shops were formulated, the drains of rainwater are placed under the floor and terracotta floors are laid to form the three rows of tiers of the Rialto Bridge which thus it was completed.

Restorations of the bridge along centuries

Subsequently in the seventeenth century the Rialto Bridge underwent a change of the original terracotta flooring, now steep and dangerous for passers-by, with a more solid and lasting pavement in trachyte (Decree of the Senate, 18 March 1677); and in the eighteenth century the Senate always, with a decree of 2 April 1740, approved the total restoration of the superficial parts of the stairways, of the balustrade with the small columns.

Another intervention was carried out following the fire that destroyed some shops on the Fondaco dei Tedeschi side on October 29th 1769. The intervention modified the number of the steps of the side ramps.

With the fall of the Serenissima in 1797, it was the turn of the Province of Venice that on 16 June 1823 gave contract to Giuseppe Aseo for the reconstruction of the 4 lateral and minor stairways at the base of the Rialto Bridge. An intervention that was repeated two decades later with the addition of the central staircase of the bridge in the midst of the shopes (1845-53). And after two years it was decided to reconstruct the minor ramp that leads to the Riva del Vino (1855).

Still the walking surface - mostly exposed to wear and tear - was at the center of a restoration work between 25 October 1920 and 25 May 1922. The twentieth century witnessed therefore a restoration to the shops in 1952 and a general restoration of the Rialto Bridge - with funds from the Fondazione Venezia Nostra - between 1973 and 1976 and in 1982 it was the Municipality that intervened again on the floors.

Last Restoration

The Rialto Bridge has recently been restored thanks to the fundamental contribution of the OTB group of Renzo Rosso, which is headed by the fashion brands Diesel, Maison Margiela, Marni, Viktor & Rolf, who won the award contest in 2012, completing the restoration before the deadline (2017), and with a saving of money compared to the original estimate of 5 million euros. The surveys before the restoration have returned a snapshot of the Rialto Bridge with foundations and structure in good condition but important criticalities to the balustrade and in the walls of the shops. The balustrade in particular had a longitudinal lesion that had made it dangerous and prone to collapse.

With the 380 thousand euro advanced, OTB has decided to finance a trachyte floor, which will replace the current one in asphalt, in the Sotoportego degli Orefici.

Last Restoration

The Rialto Bridge has recently been restored thanks to the fundamental contribution of Renzo Rosso's OTB group, which includes the fashion brands Diesel, Maison Margiela, Marni, Viktor&Rolf, that won the tender award in 2012 completing the restoration before the established deadline (2017), and with a saving of money compared to the original estimate of 5 million euros.
The surveys before the restoration have returned a snapshot of the Rialto Bridge with foundations and structure in good condition but critical issues to the balustrade and the walls of the shops. The balustrade in particular had a longitudinal lesion that had made it dangerous and prone to collapse.

The history of Rialto Bridge

Rialto derives from Rio Alto or, in Latin, Rivus Altus. In fact, its history dates back to pre-Roman times when there were already on the site settlements of stilt houses of the Venetians.

The Canal Grande was nothing more than the extension in the lagoon of one of the branches of the Medoacus maior, in Italian known then with the name Brenta; a branch called Prealtum which sinuously stretched out into the lagoon towards the sea. Here in its highest curve, from which the name Rialto, a market was settled since the 5th century and then in the ninth century the doge moved for defensive needs the seat of the city's power from Malamocco. The area thus acquired first a commercial and later a political power becoming the nerve center of the city and making the construction of a connection between the two shores necessary.

The first times, until the twelfth century, the passage was secured by a bridge of boats that it was called Quartarolo because to pass it was paid a quartarolo, small coin of 16-17 mm from 0.60-0.78 g with the value of a quarter of a denaro. To see the first bridge the Venetians had to wait for the engineer Nicolò Barattiero who under the dogado of Sebastiano Ziani (1172–1178) or Orio Mastropiero (1178–1192) designed a wooden bridge that was actually built by the Serenissima and called Ponte della Moneta for the proximity of the State Mint.

This bridge, revised and reworked with the construction of two rows of shops similar to the current and made mobile in the summit to facilitate the passage of large boats, characterized the life for centuries but was always placed in danger given its structural fragility. In 1310 the bridge was involved in the retreat of the conspirators led by Boemondo Tiepolo; these, to block the passage to the guards of the Serenissima coming from San Marco, burned the Ponte della Moneta. In 1444, however, the bridge collapsed due to the weight of the large crowd that was crowded to witness the water procession on the occasion of the marriage of the Marquis of Ferrara.
In the 1450 the wooden bridge was rebuilt but the high costs due to continuous maintenance and the danger of fires still were the big problem. In fact, following the ASV (State Archive of Venice) preserved beside the Frari Church in San Polo, a big fire happened in the night between 9th and 10th of January 1514; for 6 hours the area burnt reporting big damages, the bridge was closed as well as the entire Rialto area with the purpose of beginnning the restorations.
It was thus that emerged the idea of building a stone bridge that was less problematic and more durable.

In order to be able to come to the head in a grand way (as it was for the splendor of the city) of this crucial urban spot, Serenissima commissioned some of the major architects working at the time in Venice: Andrea Palladio and Vincenzo Scamozzi. Although presenting different projects, in common there was the idea of creating a bridge with three arches which ended, in the central part, with a tympanum supported by powerful columns.

Despite the enormous fame of the two artists involved, in the end it was Antonio da Ponte's project that prevailed thanks to a single-arched bridge, 48 meters long and 22 meters wide, which immediately distinguished itself from the excessive solemnity of Palladian proposal. It presents two rows of shops included in the 3 stairways and where the central tympanum, supported by Doric pilasters, is "cut" to give way to the view of the arch behind.

Once the first foundation stones were laid in 1588, the bridge was completed in the following decades, finally allowing a "physical" continuity between the Marcian areas and the realities. In this way, the previous openable wooden structure, which for centuries had characterized this section of the canal (represented in a sublime way in the famous painting of the Carpaccio "Healing of an obsessed") was definitively replaced.

The realization of Rialto Bridge costed 250.000 ducats. A duchy of gold, then called "zecchino", weighed 3.545 grams of 24 carat gold, that was 99.77% pure, the highest degree of purity possible for the period. At the current exchange rate, more than 30 million euros today.

The Rialto Bridge has also undergone numerous restorations of the stairways, balustrades and rows of shops but has nevertheless endured very well passing through without problems 4 centuries of Venetian history until the end of the twentieth century, when important criticalities were highlighted on the balustrade and in the walls of the shops.
The restoration project, foreseeing an important economic commitment, could not be started until in 2012 the OTB group of Renzo Rosso, which owns the fashion brands Diesel, Maison Margiela, Marni, Viktor&Rolf, won the race and brought to completion of the restoration in the established terms (2017) and with a saving of money compared to the estimate of 5 million euro.
With the 380 thousand euro advanced OTB has decided to finance a trachyte paving, which will replace the current one in asphalt, in the Sotoportego degli Orefici.

Rialto Bridge Venice


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