Ponte di Rialto or Rialto Bridge is considered one of the main attractions of Venice. It is the oldest bridge across the Grand Canal. During the development of Venice, there was no bridge between the two sides of the Grand Canal. To solve this problem, a pontoon bridge was built in 1181 by Nicolò Barattieri. It was called the Ponte della Moneta, presumably because of the mint that stood near its eastern entrance.
The development and importance of the Rialto market on the eastern bank increased traffic on the floating bridge. So it was replaced around 1250 by a wooden bridge. This structure had two inclined ramps meeting at a movable central section that could be raised to allow the passage of tall ships. The connection with the market eventually led to a change of name for the bridge.
During the first half of the 15th century, two rows of shops were built along the sides of the bridge. The rents brought an income to the State Treasury, which helped maintain the bridge. Maintenance became difficult for the timber bridge. It was partly burned during the revolt led by Bajamonte Tiepolo in 1310. In 1444, it collapsed due to the weight of the crowd watching a boat parade for the wedding procession of the marquis of Ferrara. It was rebuilt again using wood and collapsed again in 1524.
The idea of rebuilding the bridge in stone was first proposed in 1503. In 1551 the authorities requested proposals for the renewal of the Rialto Bridge, and plans were drawn up by a number of famous architects such as Jacopo Sansovino, Palladio and Vignola, but all involved a Classical approach with several arches, which were judged inappropriate.
The present stone bridge, a single span designed by Antonio da Ponte, was finally completed in 1591. It is remarkably similar to the wooden bridge it succeeded. Two inclined ramps lead up to a central portico. On either side of the portico, the covered ramps carry rows of shops. The engineering of the bridge was considered so audacious that architect Vincenzo Scamozzi predicted future ruin. The bridge has defied its critics to become one of the architectural icons of Venice.
A non-stop water show takes place beneath this most monumental of the spans across the Grand Canal, Gondolas, garbage barges, police launches and all manner of other craft fill the crowded waterway.
The Rialto Bridge and its surrounding streets are one of Venice’s major attractions. The first view of the bridge, whether it’s from a vaporetto on the Grand Canal or emerging from the maze of surrounding streets, is one of the quintessential Venetian moments where surprise and recognition combine.
Squares alongside the Grand Canal accommodate the hustle and bustle of everyday business around the Rialto Bridge. Fishmongers, business people, housewives and, of course, sightseers congregate in markets and along the narrow alleys. The scene may not be much different today than it was in the 5th century.
The bridge is the hub of the Rialto area. Cross over it, take in the view, then wander down the banks on either side to choose the perfect angle for a photograph.
The Rialto area is the setting for the oldest and largest market in Venice, and is one of the most vibrant in Italy. There has been a fish market on the same site for over a thousand years. Today, it’s housed in and around the beautiful neo-Gothic Pescheria. Next to this are the fruit and vegetable stalls, brimming with seasonal produce at much lower prices than elsewhere in the city.
The market street and the streets behind were where the original traders and merchants lived. Today, they’re lined with butchers’ shops offering beautifully prepared meat, bakers selling traditional breads and biscuits and general food stores. With the fresh pasta, dried fruit and beans, cheese, teas, coffees and spices available from the stalls throughout the market, this is the perfect area for food souvenirs.
The barges arrive at dawn. Merchants unload the food and set up for a morning of bartering and haggling with patrons. If you are staying in an apartment in Venice, you’d want to buy your food at the Rialto food market for its great selection and value.
The Rialto food and fish markets are only open until about noon, so you should get there early if you want the best selection. Restaurant chefs and locals scoop up the best of the day’s offerings early, so you’ll have to be quick. If you’re more concerned about getting a good deal, go during the last hour, when produce is sold off at reduced prices!
The Rialto food market is a bustling open-air market that is open Monday to Saturday from 7:30 am – 1:00 pm. It’s a ‘must-see’ attraction, even if you don’t plan to buy anything, as it’s fun to watch the merchants negotiate prices and haggle with the locals.
While strolling through the Rialto Market, visit the San Giacomo church. The little church of San Giacomo, on the San Polo side of the bridge, is said to be Venice’s oldest. According to legend, it was founded on the same day as the city itself on 26th March, 421AD. The Greek cross ground plan and portico are those of the larger Gothic church built in the 13th Century. The clock above the church has been famous for its inaccuracy ever since its installation in the 15th century.
The church, located beside the long building of the Goldsmith’s Guild (now seat of the “Magistrato alle Acque”), contains the altar of the Guild. The church is open Monday to Saturday from 7:00 am - 12:00 pm and from 3:00 pm - 6:00 pm. Admission is free.
Opposite the church is a statue of a kneeling figure supporting a staircase leading to a small podium overlaying a small column. This is the Gobbo di Rialto, the Rialto Hunchback, from which edicts and other public announcements were proclaimed.