RIALTO BRIDGE, VENICE
The Rialto Bridge is one of the most famous bridges in Venice and one of Venice's top attractions. The first of only four bridges to span the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge is lined with shops and is a gateway to the Rialto Market. Prior to the building of the Rialto Bridge, in the late 16th century, a series of bridges occupied this, the narrowest point across the Grand Canal. Because this bridge was the only place to cross the Grand Canal on foot, it was imperative to construct a bridge that would hold up to heavy use and would also allow boats to pass underneath.
Beginning in 1524, artists and architects, including Sansovino, Palladio, and Michelangelo, began submitting blueprints for the new bridge. But no plan was chosen until 1588, when municipal architect Antonio da Ponte was awarded the commission. Interestingly, da Ponte was the uncle of Antonio Contino, architect of Venice's other unmistakable bridge , the 'The Bridge of Sighs'.
The Rialto Bridge is an elegant, arched stone bridge lined with arcades on each side. The central archway at its pinnacle, accessed via the wide stairs that rise from either side of the bridge, serves as a lookout perch. Under the arcades are numerous shops, many of which cater to the tourists who flock here to see this famous bridge and its views of the gondola-filled waterway of the Grand Canal.
When Veneziani refer to the Rialto they are not only speaking of the Bridge. The Rialto is and has been for many centuries the financial and commercial centre of Venice. It is an area of the San Polo sestiere of Venice, Italy, also known for its markets and for the Rialto Bridge across the Grand Canal. The area was settled by the ninth century, when a small area in the middle of the Realtine Islands on either side of the Rio Businiacus was known as the Rivoaltus, or "high bank". Eventually the Businiacus became known as the Grand Canal, and the district the Rialto, referring only to the area on the left bank.
The Rialto became an important district in 1097, when Venice's market moved there, and in the following century a boat bridge was set up across the Grand Canal providing access to it. This was soon replaced by the Rialto Bridge. The bridge has since then become iconic, appearing for example in the seal of Rialto, California ("The Bridge City"). The market grew, both as a retail and as a wholesale market. Warehouses were built, including the famous Fondaco dei Tedeschi on the other side of the bridge. Meanwhile, shops selling luxury goods, banks and insurance agencies appeared and the city's tax offices were located in the area. The city's abattoir was also in the Rialto.
Most of the buildings in the Rialto were destroyed in a fire in 1514, the sole survivor being the church San Giacomo di Rialto, while the rest of the area was gradually rebuilt. The Fabriche Vechie dates from this period, while the Fabbriche Nuove is only slightly more recent, dating from 1553. The statue Il Gobbo di Rialto was also sculpted in the sixteenth century. The area is still a busy retail quarter, with the daily Erberia greengrocer market, and the fish market on the Campo della Pescheria. The Rialto is also mentioned in works of literature, notably in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, where Shylock asks "What news on the Rialto?" at the opening of Act 1, Scene III, and Solanio in Act 3 Scene I poses the same question. In Sonnets from the Portuguese Sonnet 19, Elizabeth Barrett Browning writes that "The soul's Rialto hath its merchandise...".