One of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal in Venice, the Rialto Bridge is the oldest and serves as the dividing line between the San Marco and San Polo districts. It began as a floating pontoon bridge built by Nicolò Barattieri in the late-12th century and was named Ponte della Moneta due to its proximity to the entrance of the mint. The Rialto Bridge is the main pedestrian access to Venice from the train station.
As traffic began to increase when the Rialto market flourished on the eastern bank of the canal, the pontoon was replaced by a more permanent wooden bridge in 1255. It featured two ramps that could be raised when tall ships needed to sail along the canal and was maintained through the rental of shops that were built along the sides of the bridge. But the Rialto Bridge was partially burnt down during a revolt in 1310 and later collapsed when a crowd gathered to watch a passing boat parade.
At the start of the 16th century, it was decided to rebuild the bridge in stone and numerous prominent architects (including Michelangelo) were considered for its design. But it was Antonio da Ponte who was charged with building the Rialto Bridge that is seen today, completing the structure in 1591. It features two inclined ramps leading to a central portico and (much like its wooden predecessor) had a row of shops on either side. While many doubted that its audacious engineering would survive the test of time, the Rialto Bridge defied its critics and stands as one of Venice’s architectural icons today.