Legend has it that Venice’s second-most famous bridge, the Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri), takes its name from the sighs of prisoners stealing their last glimpse of freedom as they made their way from the Prisons to judgement by the Council of Ten, whose sentences ranged from incarceration in dank, dark cells to the executioner’s block.
The handsome span, which can be viewed from the Riva degli Schiavoni, connects the Palazzo Ducale with Palazzo delle Prigioni, a prison constructed in the late 16th century to house petty criminals. Here you’ll see the cellblocks that once held the prisoners who felt the swift justice of the Terrible Ten.
The Terrible Ten (Consiglio dei Dieci) were State Inquisitors appointed by the city of Venice to prevent crimes against the State and the common wealth. This often meant torture on the rack, even for what would now be viewed as minor crimes.
The reputation of the Terrible Ten for the ferocity of their sentences became notorious throughout Europe. The cells in the Prisons Palace and in other smaller prisons around Palazzo Ducale are remnants of the horrors of mediaeval repression.