Venice consists of 117 islands, 150 canals and 409 bridges. The biggest of all the canals is, unsurprisingly, the Grand Canal but it’s only crossed by four bridges. Until three years ago, this was only three. And, oh, the controversy that raged before the fourth was built, and still rages now.
The first bridge, still the greatest and most iconic, is the Rialto Bridge. The stone arch topped with shops that we see today was built in 1591, after a few centuries of wooden bridges, one of which was partially burned during an attempted revolution, and one of which collapsed under the weight of a crowd watching a boat race.
Accademia Bridge was first built in 1854 and has been replaced many times since. The wooden bridge we cross these days was built in 1985 and is identical to the previous 1933 bridge that had become unsafe. Many people argue that Ponte dell’Accademia should be a stone bridge, but I quite like the temporary feeling of the wooden bridge.
The third, and frankly least interesting, is the bridge outside the railway station, Scalzi Bridge. Perhaps it’s the location at the least romantic part of the Grand Canal, or just the plainness of the bridge compared to the others. Scalzi is a perfectly fine, typically Venetian bridge – just a slightly larger version of many hundreds of others in Venice. Maybe that’s my problem: to cross the Grand Canal it needs to be something special.
In 2008, Venice added a fourth bridge over the Grand Canal, linking the Piazzale Roma where cars and buses arrive to the Santa Lucia train station. Designed by renowned Spanish engineer Santiago Calatrava, it’s a simple arch with steps in the tradition of Venice, made of the Istrian stone used all over the city.
It’s been reviled for being too steep for the elderly and having no wheelchair access, but Venice is a city full of steps and arching bridges. The first thing you learn in Venice is to look for the signs painted high on the walls pointing you towards the Rialto and Accademia. Without them crossing the Grand Canal would be an even greater challenge.