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All About the Legendary Bridge of Sighs, Venice

Batul Nafisa Baxamusa Nov 25, 2019
The Bridge of Sighs is one of the most iconic bridges in the city of Venice. Tourists often flock to take pictures of the bridge and lovers often click selfie under the bridge. Let’s learn a few facts about the history of the bridge, the legend behind its name, and why is it associated with the two contrasting emotions of tragedy and romance.

History of the Bridge

The Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) is an enclosed bridge made of white limestone, with two white stone bar lattice-like windows on both sides of the walking chamber.

The Bridge of Sighs connects Prigioni Nuove (The New Prison) to the inquisitor’s offices in the Doge’s Palace. It was built to transport the prisoners from the courts to the prison cells.

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Secrets Behind the Design

This white Istrian stone 11-meter wide bridge in baroque style took two years for completion.

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When sailing under the bridge, make sure to look up and notice 20 mascarons (faces) depicting sad or angry expressions and 1 smiling one. These faces were built to ward off evil and prevent their entry into the bridge.

Who Designed It?

It was designed by Antonio Contin in 1600. His uncle Antonio da Ponte was the architect of the Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal.

He took over the work of the new prison next to Doges Palace and after his death, his nephews Antonio and Tommaso Contin completed the job along with the beautiful Bridge of Sighs.

Legend Behind the Name

The New Prisons were specifically designed to keep prisoners under detention. It is said that prisoners crossed the bridge on the way to their prison cells or the execution chamber.

It was their last chance to see the beauty of Venice through the tiny windows on the bridge. Thus, they would let out a sigh of despair leading to the name Bridge of Sighs.
The name caught on and became famous after Lord Byron, a poet of romance, referred to it in his book "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" in the year 1812: “I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs; a palace and a prison on each hand."

Factual Challenge to the Legend

One theory suggests that not much of the Venice can be seen from the windows of the bridge. Thus, the sighs were actually the last breaths of the prisoners in the free world, who knew once they entered the prison cells, they will never be released again.
Some historians believe that only low-level criminals were imprisoned in the Prigioni. It is thought, the days of inquisitions and summary executions were over by the time the bridge was completed. Thus, the ‘sighs’ are just a part of old wives' tales.

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Association with Romance

Venice is a city of romance and many honeymooners visit the city. This bridge has become a symbol of love for many.
Another legend claims a couple kissing when passing under the bridge in a gondola, exactly at sunset, with the bells of St. Mark’s tolling in the background, will be gifted with eternal love.

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Inspiring Architects

Many architects are inspired by the beautiful architecture of the Bridge of Sighs. It has even motivated American architect Henry Hobson Richardson. He built a replica of the Bridge of Sighs to connect the Allegheny County Courthouse to the Allegheny County Jail for transportation of the prisoners.

Famous Prisoner

One of the most famous prisoners to walk across the Bridge of Sighs is probably the famous poet and Latin-lover Casanova. He is said to have spent 15 months of his life in the prison and escaped with the help of a monk.
Couples and newlyweds across the world, visit the Bridge of Sighs to kiss under it and ensure ever-lasting love. Do not miss out on visiting the bridge to click pictures of the legendary bridge where prisoners gave out their last ‘sigh’ of freedom.