The Bridge of Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) connects the Doge’s palace to the New Prisons (Prigioni Nuove) passing over a canal called “Rio di Palazzo”.The Bridge (11m long) is made with white limestone (Istrian stone) in baroque style.

Venice Bridge of Sighs

History

The old prison was located inside the Doge Palace but due to the lack of space, around 1580 the Senate decided to construct a new building for the new prisons across Rio di Palazzo. The aim was to improve the conditions of the convicts  with larger, more ventilated and more luminous cells.  The new building (Prigioni Nuove), designed by architect Antonio Da Ponte, also contained the tribunal and the torture chamber. “Prigioni Nuove” is the first building in history to be conceived, designed and built for the purpose to serve as a prison. The Bridge of Sight was then built so that the convicts could be taken from the New Prisons to the Doge’s Palace in order to be interrogated and stand trial.

The Bridge of Sighs can be seen from the “Canonica bridge” (Ponte della Canonica) and the “Straw Bridge” (Ponte della Paglia) located in Riva degli Schiavoni.

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The bridge of Sighs was designed by architect Antonio Contin (his uncle Antonio da Ponte had designed the Rialto Bridge) and was built around 1614. Contin designed an elevated and totally covered bridge In order to prevent prisoners from escaping.

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The name “Bridge of sighs” comes from the legend that says that convicts, while crossing the bridge after trial, would stop at the windows to see the free, outside world for the last time and sigh with regret for their lost freedom before being imprisoned or executed. As a matter of fact very little could be seen from inside the bridge through the marble decorated narrow windows.

Bridge of Sighs Window


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Inside the bridge there are 2 separate corridors. One corridor connects the new prisons to the office of the Magistrate in Laws and the Room of Quarantined Criminals; the other corridor links the prison to the Headquarters of the Police, the Avogaria halls and the Parlatory.

Both corridors are connected with a service staircase that linked the 2 areas of the old prison: the “Pozzi” (Wells) in the basement and the “Piombi” (Leads) in the attic: the “Pozzi” were 18 small and dark cells tiled with wooden beams: the cells were overcrowded and all sorts of insects nested under the beams; the Pozzi were 6 cells located under water level and therefore very damp and unhealthy. Political prisoners or small-time criminals awaiting trial were kept in the “Piombi” (Leads) that took its name after the lead plates that lined the roof, which were extremely hot in the summer and very cold in the winter.

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Among those who walked across the bridge to the prisons are many famous personalities such as Giordano Bruno, Silvio Pellico, Daniele Manin and Giacomo Casanova.

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The joints of the arch ashlars are hidden by mascarons that pull either sad or angry faces; only one of them smiles.

Venice Bridge of Sighs mascarons

Click to enlarge

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Legend has it that lovers will be given eternal bliss if they kiss on a gondola  at sunset under the Bridge of Sighs at the tolling of St. Mark’s bells.

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The Bridge of Sight has impressed so many people that other bridges around the world have taken its name or shape. There is one “Bridge of Sights” in Oxford university but it looks more like the Rialto Bridge. There is also a “Bridge of Sights” in Cambridge university.

There is another “Bridge of Sighs” (Puente de los Suspiros) in Lima, Perù. There is also a made-in-USA version of the Bridge of Sighs in New York that links two buildings of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower.

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