The answer is…
Bridge of Sighs!
The Bridge of Sighs, known as the Ponte dei Sospiri in Italian, is one of the most famous bridges not just in Venice, but in the world. The bridge passes over the Rio di Palazzo and connects the Dogi’s Palace to the Prigioni, the prisons that were built across the canal in the late 16th century. But where does its name come from, and why has this bridge become a symbol of romance in the modern era?
Legend has it that prisoners who crossed the bridge on the way to their prison cells or the execution chamber would sigh as they caught their last glimpses of Venice through the tiny windows. The bridge and its unforgettable name became particularly famous after Romantic poet Lord Byron referenced it in his 1812 book “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”: “I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs; a palace and a prison on each hand.”
Antonio Contino designed and built the Bridge of Sighs in 1600. Though highly ornamental, built of white limestone with lattice-like screens covering two small rectangular windows, the footbridge served a very practical purpose. It was used to lead prisoners from the examining rooms to their cells in the Prigioni.
The legend of the bridge, while well known, is incorrect: Once someone is on the Bridge of Sighs, very little of Venice is visible from one end to the other. It’s more plausible that the “sighs” were the prisoners’ last breaths in the free world because once in Dogi, there was little hope of ever being released.
To further challenge the legend, most historical accounts suggest that only low-level criminals were kept in the Prigioni, and the bridge wasn’t even built until the Renaissance era in Italy, which was well after inquisitions had become a thing of the past.
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Photos courtesy of The Mercato Italiano Trattoria and Market.
A view from the bridge.
A close up.
A view through the lattice-like screens.