Bridge of Sighs

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Venice, Italy, has an impressive collection of bridges, and the Bridge of Sighs is one of the best known in the world. The Bridge of Sighs is photographed by tourists from around the world and its image is a part of every prominent tour book of Italy.

The bridge can only be seen from two places: Canonica Bridge and Ponte della Paglia.

The Bridge of Sighs crosses the channel which separates the ducal palace from the prison. Its curved profile, suspended over the Rio di Palazzo, is one of the most notorious trademarks of Venice. The Bridge of Sighs’ name, given by Lord Byron as a translation from the Italian "Ponte dei sospiri" in the 19th century, comes from the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice through the window before being taken down to their cells. In reality, the days of inquisitions and summary executions were over by the time the bridge was built and the cells under the palace roof were occupied mostly by small-time criminals. In addition, little could be seen from inside the Bridge due to the stone grills covering the windows.

Today, its symbol is romantically connected to lover’s riding in gondolas beneath it. A local legend says that lovers will be granted eternal love and bliss if they kiss on a gondola at sunset under the Bridge of Sighs as the bells of St Mark's Campanile toll. If for no other reason than this, Bridge of Sighs has become one of the biggest attractions in Venice.

The History of the Bridge of Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs is of baroque style and was constructed in 1602 to link up the facade of the Ducal Palace with the newly established Prison established in1589 by Antonio Da Ponte, section head of the Bureau of the Salt of Venice which financed building.

The enclosed bridge is made of white limestone and has windows with stone bars. It passes over the Rio di Palazzo and connects the New Prison (Prigioni Nuove) to the interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace, and was designed by Antonio Contino

It is the only covered bridge in Venice. Its windows are narrow and let very little light pass through their stony wire netting. From these narrow slits, one can catch a glimpse of San Giorgio and the Lagoon. That brief glimpse was the last picture of freedom for anyone who would be spending the remainder of their days in prison.

Inside, the prison is much less pleasant than the outside: it is a sinister prison hall separated in the middle by a partition. On the one side the noble party of the Ducal Palace: the office of the Magistrate in Laws and the Room of Quarantined Criminals, on the other the prison and the Headquarters of the Police.

This “double passage” was also interconnected with the service staircase inside the Ducal Palace which went from “Wells” (dark and quite damp dungeons) of the basement, to the “Leads” where one choked in cells under roofs covered with big lead plates.

Giacomo Casanova succeeded in getting away from Leads. He tells the tale in ‘History of my Life’:

“The Leads, used for the confinement of state prisoners, are in fact
the lofts of the ducal palace, and take their name from the large plates
of lead with which the roof is covered.

One can only reach them through the gates of the palace, the prison
buildings, or by the bridge of which I have spoken called the Bridge of Sighs.”

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