The Rialto Bridge is one of the most famous symbols of Venice. This bridge is a wonder of medieval engineering with its 28m archway, that allows even the biggest boats to pass under it, and its 500-year-old foundation built on elm and larch piles. Rialto Bridge is one of the 4 bridges that span the Grand Canal (Ponte dell’Accademia, Ponte degli Scalzi, Ponte della Costituzione).
But did you know that before the building of Ponte dell’Accademia in 1854, Rialto was the only one in the entire city? And did you know that there is a legend about the building of the bridge that involves the devil? Let’s discover it together!
The most ancient venetian settlements were located on Rivoalto island, where people exchanged goods and armed boats, and they needed a bridge to connect the two banks of the Grand Canal. The first attempt to connect the two banks was a pontoon bridge, made with boats. It was only in 1181 that the Doge ordered to build a real wooden pile bridge.
During the following centuries, the bridge collapsed and was damaged several times, but it was always restored to its previous structure. During the last restoration work, it was converted into a drawbridge, with a travelling platform in the center that allowed bigger boats to pass under it. When the bridge collapsed for the umpteenth time, a bid for the construction of a stone structure was invited. The winner was the engineer Antonio da Ponte, who won against some of the greatest architects of his time, such as Palladio, Michelangelo and Sansovino.
The construction of the new stone bridge finally started in 1589. Unfortunately, the building works took more time than expected because of unstable foundations and because of the complaints of tradesmen that could not do their job. Besides, there were strange rumors going about the building works…
The people that supervised the works started rumoring that there were other reasons for the delay, creating one of the most disturbing legends of Venice. It was rumored that the building of the bridge was being hindered by the devil itself, who had a vested interest in delaying its construction.
It was said that the devil wanted to possess the first living soul to cross the bridge, and in exchange he would let Antonio da Ponte finish his work. Antonio accepted for the good of the city, but he contrived a plan to outsmart the devil: on the inauguration day, he would have a rooster be the first soul to cross the bridge. The devil discovered his trick, so he appeared to the engineer’s pregnant wife, telling her that her husband was waiting for her at the worksite. She immediately ran to the building site and crossed the bridge, so her and the baby’s souls were taken by the devil and condemned to wander for centuries.
Even If we don’t know exactly why the construction works were delayed that much, we know that the bridge was finished in 1591 with the design that all of us know so well. It became one of the most important and famous symbols of the city and it is a must-see if you’re in Venice, don’t miss it!