Historically bridges are built to connect lands and bring people closer. They are also an incredible invention that allow overcoming natural barriers whether a river or a valley. Engineers challenge themselves to find new techniques and materials since the Etruscan (a population of ancient Italy living in the area of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio) times. After the Etruscans, the Romans learned the art of building bridges and became the major builders of the time. Centuries later, also the genius Leonardo da Vinci dedicated himself to drawing models of bridges.
Many are the bridges that can be found around Italy, here is the history and some curiosities of the most famous.
Ponte di Rialto: the most famous and the oldest bridge that is over the Grand Canal in Venice. Nowadays, it represents a symbol of Venice around the world and is a romantic attraction for couples. This bridge was built in 1599 with a project by Antonio da Ponte. At first this point of the Canal was crossed thanks to an “alignment of boats” and later by a wooden bridge called “Ponte della Moneta”: moneta in Italian means coin and the term was used in light of the fact that to cross the bridge a toll had to be paid. After several fires and collapses of the wooden bridge, it was finally decided to build a stone bridge.
Ponte dei Sospiri: located right near the famous San Marco Square in Venice the Bridge of Sighs gets its name from the laments of prisoners who crossed this bridge while being led to trial. In fact, it connects the Palazzo Ducale to the prison.
Ponte della Maddalena: nestled in the green of the Garfagnana area in the Appenines above Lucca, this bridge, besides being a stunning work of architecture, carries a spooky legend. It is said that the master builder of the bridge realized that he would never be able to finish the work by the deadline assigned to him. For this reason the Devil proposed making a pact: the Devil would finish construction of the bridge in only one night, but he would take the first soul who crossed the bridge. The master agreed but shortly after repented, and went to the town priest to confess. The two men decided the first soul to cross the bridge would be a dog (or pig in some versions of the story). The Devil realized the scam and throw himself in the flowing waters of the river Serchio.
Ponte Sospeso: suspended over a green and deep valley in the Appenines above Pistoia, this metal bridge was inaugurated in 1923. Its original function was to help the workers reach the factories that were on the other side, representing in this way a convenient shortcut. In 1990, this bridge won the Guinness World Record for being the “longest pedestrian bridge”, and only in 2006 was it surpassed by a Japanese bridge.
Ponte Sant’Angelo: this bridge in Rome has been standing for over 2000 years and is adorned with 10 statues representing angels that were carved in the 15th century under the direction of Gian Lorenzo Bernini. In the Middle Ages, it was the only bridge which the pilgrims, who were going to the tomb of San Pietro, could cross. This bridge is also mentioned by Dante in his famous Divina Commedia.
Ponte Vecchio: Last but not least, the Ponte Vecchio, a symbol of the city of Florence, is the most famous Italian bridge and every day attracts travelers from every corner of the world. It was built in 1345 and originally hosted butchers and greengrocers, who threw their waste directly into the Arno River. In 1565, Cosimo I, of the Medici family, had the Corridoio Vasariano constructed over the bridge. This corridor, which now hosts the largest self portrait collection in the world, had the purpose of allowing the Medici family to avoid passage on the
bridge together with the common people. The corridor, in fact, allowed private passage from Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti, two principal palaces that were owned by the Medici. Cosimo I also replaced the previous shops with the much more elegant goldsmiths who still sell their beautiful jewelery on the bridge today.
Did you know?
The Rialto and Ponte Vecchio bridges inspired, not only Italian Bridges, the architect of the Pulteney Bridge in the English town of Bath.