Oct
20

Bridge Over Troubled Waters: Venetian bridges with a dark past

Bridge Over Troubled Waters: Venetian bridges with a dark past
Ponte del Diavolo (Bridge of the Devil)

Built on around 120 small islands, Venice is linked together by over 400 bridges, which allow people – as well as pipes and cables carrying water and electricity – to cross the city’s canals.  Many of these bridges are named after nearby streets and buildings, but a number have more unusual nicknames that relate to local legends and (sometimes grisly) episodes from their past, such as these:

Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs): “I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs, A palace and a prison on each hand”.  Built in 1600 to connect the upper storeys of the Doge’s Palace with the city’s prisons, the “Ponte dei Sospiri” was given its nickname by Lord Byron. According to his romantic notion, doomed prisoners would sigh at their final glimpse of Venice through the bridge’s windows, which look over the Basin of St Mark’s towards the island of San Giorgio Maggiore.

Ponte dei Pugni (Bridge of Fists): Situated in Dorsoduro near Campo San Barnaba, and originally built without parapets, this little bridge was originally the site of ritual battles between neighbouring clans – the Nicolotti and the Castellani.  Weapons were often lethal, and fatalities were commonplace; today you can still see the white marble footprints that marked the starting points from which the clans would race forward to attack the opposition – with the aim of forcing their rivals into the canal, and gaining control of the bridge.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters: Venetian bridges with a dark past
Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs)

Ponte del Diavolo (Bridge of the Devil): One of only two bridges in Venice still without railings or parapets, this picturesque bridge is believed to take its name from a tragic local legend involving a young Venetian girl whose lover was murdered during the Austrian occupation.  Desperate without him, the heartbroken girl sought the help of a witch, who in turn made a pact with the Devil; in return for bringing the young man back to life, the Devil demanded the souls of seven dead children, to be handed over at the Torcello bridge.  The Devil kept his promise, and the lovers were reunited – but the witch died in a fire soon afterwards, and was not able to keep her pact – so to this day, on the eve of 24th December, the Devil is said to come back to the bridge in the guise of a black cat, waiting in vain for the souls he was promised.

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