I have never traveled to what is supposed to be one of the most romantic cities in the world…Venice, in Italy, but like most people, I find the city, and especially the buildings to be very beautiful. The bridges in the city are especially beautiful, but some may be very misunderstood…as it turns out. One such “misunderstood” bridge is the Bridge of Sighs. This bridge cannot easily be visited on foot because it is a part of a government prison facility built on the waves near the harbor of the city, but is easily accessible via boats that are constantly flowing under it.
The Bridge of Sighs was built in the 17th century. It is a fully enclosed bridge made of white limestone, and its beauty has caught the attention of many, including the famous English nobleman and poet Lord Byron who told in one of his poems in the 19th century, about the bridge being the last point where condemned prisoners could see the beautiful city of Venice before they were brought to their executioner. That description is very different from the one that is more accepted by tourists, and possibly the tourism industry, who have portrayed it as the sighs of lovers, rather than the sighs of the condemned.
What many tourists, and possible some of the citizens don’t realize is that even centuries after it was built, Bridge of Sighs is still the part of the same prison complex that connects the main building of New Prison (Prigioni Nuove), to the nearby interrogation rooms located in the Doge’s Palace. Of course, the bridge is no longer used in the capacity of transport of maximum security prisoners, but is instead used by small-time offenders who are residing in this low-security prison. The fame of the bridge as the final point of the freedom of the prisoners may have come from the early history of Venice, when its prison was the place of summary executions and where inquisitions were indeed practiced…well before the bridge was ever built.
The Bridge of Sighs was built over the Rio di Palazzo between 1600 and 1603 by the instructions of the architect Antonio Contin, nephew of famous Antonio da Ponte who also designed one of the most popular bridges in all of Venice…the Rialto Bridge. Antonio Contin designed this 11 meters long bridge to have a single arch, detailed and stylish outdoor decorations made from Istrian stone, and two windows barred with white stone bars on both sides of the walking chamber. These days, the only way to personally visit the Bridge of Sighs is to take part of “Secret Itinerary” (Itinerari Segreti) tour that is organized by the Doge Palace. The tour is only held between June and September and lasts around 90 minutes, it is done only in Italian and includes visiting of the several famous parts of the prison, such as its antique cells, torture chambers, other rooms, and of course, the Bridge of Sighs, as well. It is much easier to see the famous bridge from the water below, but you would not get to see the inside, of course.