Ponte di Rialto ☆☆

Ponte di Rialto, Venice, Italy (Photo by Miomir Magdevski)

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

, Ponte di Rialto, Venice, Italy. (Photo by ianpudsey)
, Ponte di Rialto, Venice, Italy. (Photo by Hernán Piñera)
The old, wooden Rialto Bridge as seen Vittore Carpaccio's 1496 "Miracle of the Holy Cross at the Rialto" in the Accademia Galleries, Ponte di Rialto, Venice, Italy. (Photo Public Domain)

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.

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 Venicerepeatedly 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.

Photo gallery
  • , Ponte di Rialto, Italy (Photo by Miomir Magdevski)
  • , Ponte di Rialto, Italy (Photo by ianpudsey)
  • , Ponte di Rialto, Italy (Photo by Hernán Piñera)
  • The old, wooden Rialto Bridge as seen Vittore Carpaccio
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How long does the Rialto Bridge take?

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.

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.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).