The Rialto Bridge is the oldest of the four bridges that cross the Grand Canal in Venice. It is approximately located in the center of the main island of Venice. When walking from the train station towards Piazza San Marco, it is most likely one of the first tourist attractions to be recognized.
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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 mint's entrance.
As traffic began to increase when the Rialto market flourished on the canal's eastern bank, 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 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, Antonio da Ponte 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.