Bridge of Sighs

Perhaps when it comes to romance, Venice, Italy could claim the label of most romantic city in the world. Its tight streets wind through the city in tandem with coursing waterways all set amongst some of the most stunning architecture. Spanning the Palazzo Rio, or Palace River, is the historically eerie Venice Bridge of Sighs. Tale of local legend says that lovers will be assured eternal love if they kiss on a gondola at sunset under the bridge. Thus, it was thought by many that the Bridge of Sighs name was inspired by the sighs of lovers overwhelmed by the romance of it all. However, beautiful and endearing as that may be, it is for much darker reasons that the Bridge of Sighs takes its name.

Bridge of Sighs Venice
Bridge of Sighs Venice

This bridge at Venice, designed by Antonio Contino, was built at the beginning of the 17th century with the purpose of connecting the Old Prisons and interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace, or Palace of the Dukes, to the New Prisons just across the river. Situated just off the side of Saint Mark's Plaza, the Bridge of Sighs is one of the most famous scenes of the city and its beauty masks what was likely a devastating last walk for many condemned prisoners. Inspired by Romantic literature and one of the most romantic of visiting northern European poets, Lord Byron, the Bridge of Sighs name is actually borne of the notion that one could hear the sighs of these prisoners as they looked one last time upon the outside world before being locked up. Although by the time the bridge was built and summary executions at the hand of the inquisitors had become a thing of the past, many of these prisoners most likely did not see freedom again. Still visible on some of the concrete cell walls are pictures and graffiti done by past prisoners, many of whom had only committed petty crimes.

Among the most famous of these prisoners was Casanova, who was arrested in 1755 for spreading antireligious sentiment throughout the devoutly religious republic. Fifteen months after he crossed the Bridge of Sighs, he would be one of the few prisoners to escape the dark and dingy confines of the Palazzo delle Prigioni, or Palace of Prisons.

Bridge of Sighs At Sunset
Bridge of Sighs at Sunset

The Bridge of Sighs Venice, is renowned worldwide for being one of the finer examples of bridge architecture, along with the Ponte di Rialto, or Rialto Bridge, which was actually the work of Contino"s uncle, Antonio da Ponte. Its location at the center of the city and its proximity to Saint Mark"s Plaza, makes the Bridge of Sighs not only easy to access and find, but moreover a must-see. Maybe after buying seeds at Saint Mark"s Plaza and posing for pictures as you are assailed by a swarm of pigeons, you can make your way to the Venice Bridge of Sighs to reflect on what it might have been like to take this famous walk of prisoners and imagine that you yourself are one of them thrown back in history. Your eyes gather one last glance out to Venice before you are condemned to a dark and gloomy cell.

It is interesting to note that there are two copies of the Venice Bridge of Sighs, both located in England. One can be found in Cambridge, the other in Oxford. The Bridge of Sighs Venice has long been an inspiration to poets and visitors to the city. Tours offered at the Palace of Dukes are popular and offer a rare chance to see the inside of the Palace and cross the Bridge of Sighs into the historic prisons. These tours fill up quickly in the spring and summer, and booking ahead of time is a good idea. You will not want to miss this chance to access the otherwise often restricted and hidden quarters and passageways that offer a glimpse into centuries of Venetian politics.

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