Ponte del Rialto

The Rialto Bridge
The Rialto Bridge. (Photo by Michalis Fotinakis)

The Rialto Bridge, most famous and loveliest span across Venice's Grand Canal, and the market that extends from its foot into San Polo

The Rialto Bridge as it appeared in 1494, in a detail from a painting by Vittore Carpaccio in the Accademie Galleries
The Rialto Bridge as it appeared in 1494, in a detail from a painting by Vittore Carpaccio in the Accademia Galleries.

Until the 19th century, this narrowest point on the Grand Canal—where the original core of the Venetian settlement was established back in the Dark Ages—was the only place you could cross from one side to the other unless you had a boat because it had the only bridge in town.

The original bridge (built in 1181) was a crude floating pontoon affair.

By 1250, the city had constructed a proper bridge made of wood with a drawbridge in the middle for ships to sail through (as seen in the 1494 painting by Carpaccio).

The wooden bridge era was beset by difficulties: In 1444, it collapsed under the weight of people who flocked to it to watch the procession of the Marquis of Ferrara's wife.

In 1514, the replacement Rialto Bridge was damaged by a fire that swept away most of the old buildings on the San Polo side.

The Rialto Bridge in Venice in 1694
Rialto Bridge in 1694 (Anonymous).

The Rialto Bridge in Venice in 1727
Rialto Bridge in 1727 (Il Canaletto).

The Rialto Bridge in Venice in 1875
Rialto Bridge in 1875 (Carlo Naya).

The Rialto Bridge in Venice in 1918
Rialto Bridge in 1918 (Anonymous).

In 1524 it collapsed yet again and was completely rebuilt—this time, out of stone.

The stone bridge

In 1592, they finally replaced the wooden bridge with the current graceful arc of stone and marble.

The Rialto Bridge is 92 feet long, constructed of a single arch lined by tiny shops (these days inhabited by pricey boutiques, more eye-candy than shopping district; I've only ever seen Japanese tourists buying anything inside).

The current, 16th-century Rialto Bridge was designed by the felicitously named Antonio da Ponte ("Tony of the Bridge"), but he barely made the cut.

His plans actually won a competition that was entered by every architectural heavy hitter of the Renaissance, including Michelangelo, Palladio, and Sansovino.

To put that in perspective, it would be like holding a Battle of the Bands where The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin, and U2 were all beat by some teenage garage band.

The bridge remains a gathering place and prime meeting spot for Venice, the place where you would go to get the pulse of the city (or these days, the pulse of the tourists).

It always has been thus. Shakespeare's characters in The Merchant of Venice repeatedly ask: "What news on the Rialto?"

If you have to meet someone in Venice, just set a time and say "See you at the Rialto." Other obvious places like Piazza San Marco are big enough to get lost in, but "Let's meet atop the Rialto Bridge" works for everyone—plus it's the most central spot in town

Stretching out from the San Polo side of the bridge is the Rialto Market of food and souvenir stands leading to the Renaissance loggia of the daily pescheria fish market.

Webcam on the Rialto Bridge, Venice
A live webcam on the Rialto. F5 to refresh.

Tips & links

Details
Tours
How long does the Rialto Bridge take?

Planning your day: Well, it take all of 90 seconds to cross. Figure on spending another 5 minutes taking pictrues of it and of the Grand Canal from the window at the middle. Venice itineraries

Do. Not. Shop.
Seriously. The shops on the actual bridge are ludicrously overpriced. If you want some souvenirs, check out the stalls in the market stretching on from the San Polo end of the bridge.
Photo op!

The Rialto Bridge is the place to snap the perfect photograph of the Grand Canal and its chaos of boat traffic.

Nearby sights, dining, hotels

Sights nearby
★★★ Grand Canal [sight]
Rialto market [market]
★★ Ca' d'Oro [museum/palace]
Ca' Pesaro [museum/palace]
★★★ Piazza San Marco [square]
★★★ St. Mark's Basilica [church]
Museo Correr [museum]

Where to eat nearby
Vini da Pinto [meal]
Trattoria alla Madonna [meal]
Rosticceria San Bartolomeo [snack]
Rosticceria Teatro Goldoni [snack]
★★★ Cantina Do Mori [snack]
★★ Cantina Do Spade [snack/meal]

Hotels nearby
RR Antica Locanda Sturion [moderate]
RR Pensione Guerrato [cheap]
RR Caneva [super-cheap]
RR Bernardi-Semenzato [cheap]

» More hotels in San Marco from Venere.com
» More hotels in San Marco from Booking.com


» More hotels in S. Polo from Venere.com
» More hotels in S. Polo from Booking.com

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Nearby
Sights nearby
★★★ Grand Canal [sight]
Rialto market [market]
★★ Ca' d'Oro [museum/palace]
Ca' Pesaro [museum/palace]
★★★ Piazza San Marco [square]
★★★ St. Mark's Basilica [church]
Museo Correr [museum]

Where to eat nearby
Vini da Pinto [meal]
Trattoria alla Madonna [meal]
Ai Trei Spiedi [meal]
Rosticceria San Bartolomeo [snack]
Rosticceria Teatro Goldoni [snack]
★★★ Cantina Do Mori [snack]
★★ Cantina Do Spade [snack/meal]

Hotels nearby
RR Antica Locanda Sturion [moderate]
RR Pensione Guerrato [cheap]
RR Caneva [super-cheap]
RR Bernardi-Semenzato [cheap]

» More hotels in San Marco from Venere.com
» More hotels in San Marco from Booking.com


» More hotels in S. Polo from Venere.com
» More hotels in S. Polo from Booking.com



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