Even though the city of Venice seems to be very old, the history of the Rialto bridge actually began no more than 1000 years ago.
Let's find out in this article how the true symbol of Venice, the oldest bridge on the Grand Canal, was built.
The history of Rialto Bridge: the curious history of the Ponte di Rialto in Venice
It's crazy to imagine that at its very beginning Venice was not as it looks like today. 1000 years ago, in fact, in Venice there weren't stone or metal bridges on the Grand Canal.
You have to imagine that to move around this city, actually built on the water, it was necessary to have a boat.
So, when the importance of the city grew, especially in its historical heart, the area around the Rialto Market, it was necessary to better organize the transfers around the city.
Since its first building as a pontoon bridge, the Ponte di Rialto was built many times across history, as we will discover in the article.
Before we analyze its history, however, let's find out why it's built in this particular area of the Grand Canal.
2 reasons why the first bridge on the Grand Canal was built in the area of Rialto
As we said, we'll give you two main reasons.
First of all, this was the place where the population settled at the beginning. It is the true heart of the city. But why?
If you have a look at its name "Rialto", it means "Rivus Altus", a Latin expression for "high bank". You know that Venice is subject to high tide. Well, this area is a little bit higher than the surroundings, so that it was easier for Venetians to live here.
Secondly, the Rialto area was important for its local market, which is still renowned today for the high quality and freshness of the products sold here, especially fish. Since the importance of the market was rapidly growing, it was important that the goods (and the people) were able to go from one place to another in Venice.
It all began with a pontoon bridge, the Ponte della Moneta
That's why in 1181, the first Rialto bridge, a pontoon bridge, was built by Nicolò Barattieri, a Lombard engineer. Its first name was Ponte della Moneta (Money bridge). Historians think that the name was due to the money spent to pass on it or to the nearby presence of the local Mint.
However, this was just the beginning of the story.
The wooden version of the Rialto bridge
Not long after, it was necessary to build a more stable bridge. The population was increasing, as was the importance of Venice and its market.
That's why in 1255, only 74 years later, the floating bridge was substituted with a wooden one. The central section was a movable one, so that also bigger ships could easily reach the other part of the Grand Canal.
The Rialto Market was well connected and the name of the bridge was finally decided: in that period, in fact, it was called Ponte di Rialto, after the name of the market.
Even this time, however, all it had to change.
Many collapses occurred in the XV century...
In the XV century two rows of shops were built on the bridge so that their rent could pay for the maintenance of the bridge.
However, the timber bridge was not prevented from the many collapses that happened during its troubled history, from the one in 1310 due to a fire during a rebellion, to the one in 1444, due to the weight of the too many people assisting to the marriage of the Marquis of Ferrara, to the one in 1524.
The time of the timber bridge had finally come to an end.
The XVI century, the golden area of the Serenissima Republic of Venice
At the beginning of the XVI century it was clear that it was necessary to build a new Rialto bridge, this time made of stone.
In the following years, many famous architects of the time offered their projects. The most famous ones were Jacopo Sansovino, Palladio and Vignola but they all planned a multiple arched classical bridge which was not adequate for the necessities of the city. Also Michelangelo was one of the great names considered for the bridge.
However, the chosen project was made by Antonio da Ponte who designed a single arched bridge. The construction began in 1588 and the bridge was ready by the end of 1591.
The shape of the stone bridge reminds that of the wooden Rialto, with two rows of shops built on the border.
And that's the beginning of the story not only of the most famous bridge of Venice, but also the oldest bridge built on the Grand Canal.
The Rialto Bridge today: what to do and what to eat
One of the most iconic places of Venice deserves an important visit.
Not only can you do some great shopping, visit the local Rialto Market or just stroll around the little streets surrounding the Rialto area (called Calli in Venetian).
You can also taste some great local food. For example you could stop at a local bacaro and have a traditional aperitif or decide to have a Venetian full meal.
Very close to the Rialto area there's our restaurant, called Hostaria Sant'Aponal, where you can have your lunch, dinner or aperitif in a quiet atmosphere. We would love having you as our precious Guests!