One of the numerous bridges that adorn the stunning city of Venice was able to attract the public’s attention in a unique and unusual way. This is the fabled “Bridge of Sighs,” which can only be reached by boats that are continually passing beneath it since it is a component of a government jail complex built on the waves close to the city’s harbor.
This totally walled, white limestone bridge from the early 17th century has attracted the interest of many, including renowned English nobleman and poet Lord Byron, who dramatized in one of his works from the 19th century, claiming that this bridge was the final resting place of condemned prisoners.
1. Bridge Of Sighs (Rio Di Palazzo)
The Bridge of Sighs, in the opinion of many, is the most magnificent bridge in all of Venice.
The Bridge of Sighs, which connects the main structure of the New Prison (Prigioni Nuove) with the adjoining interrogation chambers housed in the Doge’s Palace, is still a component of the same prison complex several centuries after it was first constructed.
The bridge on its own is, of course, not utilized to transfer inmates to maximum security facilities; rather, it is used by low-level offenders housed in this low-security facility.
The historical background of Venice and its jail, when mass executions and forced conversions were conducted, may be the source of the bridge’s renown as the site at which inmates were finally let free (even before the bridge was built).
The legendary Antonio da Ponte, whose nephew created the Rialto Bridge, one of the most well-known bridges in all of Venice, gave the order for the Bridge of Sighs to be erected over the Rio di Palazzo between 1600 and 1603.
This 11-meter-long bridge was built by Antonio Contin to have a single arch, intricate and fashionable exterior accents constructed of Istrian stone, and two windows on either side of the walking chamber blocked with white stone bars.
2. Facts About Bridge Of Sighs
The city of Venice is frequently said to as romantic. Some claim it to be the world’s finest enchanting city that once was used to transport prisoners. Therefore, it is not surprising that this bridge as a famous landmark is so beloved by lovers who pause to snap pictures of themselves sharing a kiss right in front of it, in part because of its descriptive name.
You may also want to know that the sighs the bridge is referring to are not sighs of love, but rather sighs of surrender and sorrow. In fact, for some people, the Bridge of Sighs represented their final bridge crossing.
Let us read about some interesting facts about the bridge of sighs.
2.1. Location and Background: Doge’s Palace
Since the middle of the sixteenth century, the Doge’s residence has operated as the city jail. This enormous palace has a long history. It was the house and main residence of the Doge of Venice, the highest authority of the old Republic of Venice, and the location of the in-city jail. It is situated in the harbor of Venice at Piazza San Marco 1 (overlooking the St. Mark’s Basin).
Over the ruins of the former fortress castle, which had been partially destroyed in the 10th century, the huge palace was constructed. Doge’s palace, which included Gothic and Baroque-style elements, housed the growing city’s government and Great Council members.
Antonio Contino, the structure’s architect, oversaw its commissioning and construction between the years of 1600 and 1603 during a three-year period, matching the bridge’s aesthetic to that of the Doge’s Palace and the New Prison’s amenities (Prigioni Nuove).
The bridge has a long dark history and was first associated with tales of prisoners being transported across it and catching the last glimpses of picturesque Venice before they were put in the torture chamber.
Prisoners would see their last, hopeless breaths at those moments. The name of the bridge is thought to have originated from this tale. This bridge started to be associated with contemporary romantic tales in more recent decades.
2.2. Itinerari Segreti
To directly see the Bridge of Sighs, one must participate in a trip known as the “Secret Itinerary” (Itinerari Segreti), which is organized by the Doge Palace whose construction was sponsored by Doge Marino Grimani.
The 90-minute tour, which is only available between June and September, is conducted entirely in Italian and would include stops at the prison’s torture chambers, ancient cells, various quarters, and, of course, the Bridge of Sighs itself.
Traveling below the bridge on a gondola ride is far less complicated, allowing anybody interested in the baroque bridges of Venice or in the many bridge tales and urban legends to travel beneath it without difficulty when crossing the Rio di Palazzo.
2.3. Architecture Style: The Only Covered Bridge In Venice
The “Ponte dei Sospiri,” constructed by Antonio Contin in 1614, served as a direct link between the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace and the other rooms of “New Prisons,” the first structure ever created in the world with the exclusive purpose of housing prisoners.
The Bridge of Sighs is still the only covered bridge in beautiful Venice after centuries of bridge construction. There are just two windows in its corridor, which is entirely covered in stone and faces the San Giorgio and the Lagoon.
Naturally, windows are tightly secured by a stony wire netting that allows very little light to get through. The inside of the bridge lacks any artificial lighting.
Although it is small and rarely visited, many people now consider the Bridge of Sighs to be one of the finest representations of Renaissance architecture in Europe, as well as one of the most magnificent bridges ever built.
One of the most exquisite bridges in all of Venice, with white limestone construction and an eye-catching design that highlights the two buildings it connects, is characterized by its baroque aesthetic. The 20 macaron faces on the bridge’s bottom arch are among the most intriguing features on its surface.
Ten of the faces on the bridge display emotions of dread and despair, while just one face displays a smile, in keeping with the fact that this bridge was designed for usage by inmates.
The Italian baroque architecture is known for its macaron faces, which are used to frighten away evil spirits and prevent them from accessing the structures and the people who live in them.
2.4. Bridge Of Sighs In Culture
A contemporary myth has developed around the Bridge of Sighs as a result of countless references to it in recent poetry and music, some of which were penned by the great poet and Latin lover Casanova, who served 15 months of his time in prison in Venice.
In it, if couples kiss on a gondola directly beneath the bridge on the narrow canal at exact sunset and when the St. Mark’s Campanile bells can be heard ringing across the lovely city of Venice, they will be granted, eternal love.
Today, the Bridge of Sighs is seen less as a reminder of jail and more as a representation of love and passion in a place where lovers and visitors are drawn at sunset to capture a picture of the moment.
It has been a part of Operas, movies, and music. Writers and poets have been inspired to work on the bridge of sighs.
Below are some of the most renowned mentions of the famous bridge of sighs.
- The 1861 opera “Le bridge des soupirs” includes the Gibraltarian band Melon Diesel’s rendition of “Venice,” from the Bridge of Sighs.
- Hollywood dramatic movies “The Bridge of Sighs” from 1925 and 1936 are based on the same New York City bridge.
- The term “Bridge of Sighs” comes from a poem by Lord Byron written in the 19th century called “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,” which is incorporated in the 1974 Robin Trower record with the same title 1900 song by James Thornton
- Richard Russo’s novel The Sighs bridge
- Olen Steinhauer’s novel “Bridge of Sighs”
2.5. Origin Of Its Name
The bridge was used as a route for moving inmates from the jail to the inquisitor’s office. Its name derives from the prevailing notion that convicted inmates sighed as they were taken through it to the executioner.
Although Lord Byron famously referred to it in his poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage that ‘he sat in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs, a castle, and jail on either hand,’ it wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that it earned the name “Bridge of Sighs.”
In truth, by the period the bridge was constructed, the era of the Spanish Inquisition and torture had ended, and the only criminals housed in the jail cells were minor offenders.
The jail structure dates back to the Middle Ages and was formerly employed by the Church during the Inquisition. It is older than the Doge’s palace (when individuals were tormented on suspicion of practicing witchcraft or being atheists).
2.6. Regeneration Of The Bridge Of Sighs
After pieces of the bridge began to come loose and fall into the muddy waters of the Rio di Palazzo, one even just missed the leg of a visiting passenger on the gondola under it, the renovation was ordered.
The well-known Bridge of Sighs was eventually restored to its former beauty after an expensive and protracted renovation that was mandated by the governing body of this renowned city, after decades and centuries of accumulating filth and degradation.
Over 12 million people visit the bridge each year for a final view, and after three years of labor, it has now been restored to gleam in pure dazzling Istrian stone like it looked when it was first built in 1603.
Three years and 2.8 million dollars were spent on the repair procedure. A large portion of the money was raised through arresting advertising that was posted on the scaffolding equipment around the bridge.
Many locals felt that this poster deviated from the beauty and civility of the city’s public spaces.
2.7. Identical Bridges
Given that the Bridge of Sighs is unquestionably one of Venice’s most well-known and iconic bridges, it is not surprising that other designers sought to imitate the same name. As a result, American architect Henry Hobson Richardson created the “Richardson Romanesque” style of a construction project.
Nowadays, many towns throughout the world with bridges that are specifically designed to bring the section of Venice to their city borders can feel the impact of the Bridge of Sighs.
These Venetian-style arched bridges are also seen in Sweden, Germany, Scotland, Oxford, Chester, Cambridge, and Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is home to one of those bridges that are most well-known.
When Allegheny County Jail architect Henry Hobson Richardson announced his plans in 1883, they featured a bridge in the Venetian architectural style (more particularly, a nearly perfect duplicate of the Bridge of Sighs) that linked the courtroom to the local prison structure.
Prisoners from Pittsburgh were certainly carried over this bridge within city limits for many years to Allegheny County Courthouse, but in 1995, once the detention center was relocated, this practice was discontinued.
The bridge that links The Tombs (the Manhattan Detention Complex) to the County Jail Justice System Buildings is known as the Bridge of Sighs in New York. A copy of the Bridge of Sighs may be found in the “The Venetian” resort in Las Vegas.
Unfortunately, due to the harsh circumstances, humidity, and cold behind the stone walls of the jail, incarceration during the period of the Serenissima sometimes meant death.
As a result, the name of the bridge alludes to the somber sighs of prisoners who, as they crossed it to enter jail, realized they were likely seeing Venice for the final time.
Prisoners lost more than just their freedom. They were aware that they would frequently perish as well.
Now that you know why Venetians laugh when couples kiss and sob in front of the Ponte dei Sospiri, you can appreciate why. The sighs of the bridge are for the loss of liberty (and existence), and let’s hope it’s not what the sighs of the lovers at sunset are about!