Rialto Bridge: The Oldest Bridge on Venice’s Grand Canal
If you’re planning your Venice day trip, there are a few landmarks you definitely won’t want to miss. One of them is the majestic ‘Ponte di Rialto’ or Rialto Bridge, famously immortalised by artists such as Canaletto and even mentioned by Shakespeare, whose Shylock asks, “What news on the Rialto?” in The Merchant of Venice. Whether you’re in Venice on a romantic minibreak or you’re wondering what to do in Venice with family, make sure you include the Rialto on your itinerary.
A brief history of the Rialto
Built to provide access to the Rialto market and connect the San Marco and San Polo sestieri (districts), the Rialto is the oldest bridge across the Grand Canal (read more on Venice’s extraordinary network of canals in our article, what is Venice built on?). The bridge in its current form dates back to 1591, but its history goes back much further.
Originally a pontoon bridge built in 1181, it was replaced with a wooden structure in 1255. It then suffered fire damage in a revolt in 1310, and it subsequently collapsed twice – the first time in 1444 under the weight of people using it as a vantage point for a regatta, and then again in 1524.
The bridge as we know it today is the result of decades of proposals from famous architects vying to design a sturdy stone replacement for the wooden bridge. One of our favourite Venice Grand Canal facts is that Michaelangelo was among those considered, as was Palladio, an architect best known today for his stunning country villas.
In the end, the winning design – similar in appearance to the previous wooden bridge – was submitted by Antonio da Ponte, and construction of the new marble bridge began in 1588. It opened in 1591, and until the 1854 construction of the Accademia Bridge, it was the only place you could cross the Grand Canal on foot. Today, it’s one of the best-loved sights on a Venice day trip.
Where is the Rialto Bridge in Venice?
A stroll across the Rialto is high on the list of romantic things to do in Venice thanks to its beautiful views of the Grand Canal and numerous little shops for souvenirs. If you’re wondering how to get to the Rialto Bridge, there are a couple of ways of doing it. On foot, make your way through the city’s atmospheric streets north from St Mark’s Square until you reach the Grand Canal – you can’t miss the bridge! Alternatively, hop on a water bus and get off at the Rialto Bridge stop. Have your camera at the ready for one of Venice’s most breathtaking sights…