Though the Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri in Italian) might evoke today images of love and romance, its history is actually far darker and gloomier than visitors may think!
Follow Captain Ulysses on a tour of this iconic monument, a must-see in the City of the Doges!
Short history lesson
The origins of the Bridge of Sighs
Until the late 16th century, the prisons of Venice (nicknamed “the Piombi”, “lead” in Italian, because they were located right under the lead roofs) were housed inside the Doge’s Palace. But as the population increased, so did the number of criminals. So much so that the the Palace’s prisons were soon filled to capacity.
To house the growing number of prisoners, a new prison (nicknamed “The Wells”) was built next to the Palace, on the other side of the small channel called the Rio de la Canonica.
To connect this new building to the Palace, architects Antonio Contino di Bernardino and Antonio Da Ponte — who designed the Rialto Bridge — imagined in 1602 a bridge which was to be fully enclosed: the Bridge of Sighs.
What is the reason behind the name of the Bridge of Sighs?
The “sighs” after which the bridge is named – which many wrongly believe to be the sighs breathed by lovers – are actually the sighs of the Venetian convicts looking at the city one last time through the windows of the bridge on their way to the “Wells”, the prisons where they were to serve their sentences.
The small windows of the bridge offered inmates their last glimpse of freedom before being locked up in their dark and humid cells.
⚓Attention, sailors! ⚓
Looking for more tips and suggestions for your trip to Venice ? Check out the Capitain’s article on the best things to do in Venice!
The Bridge of Sighs, a symbol of love and romance
Why then did the Bridge of Sighs become a symbol of love and romance in Venice?
Believe it or not, the culprit of this gross mix-up in none other than English poet Lord Byron, who wrote in the 1810s:
I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs,Lord Byron – Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage
A Palace and a prison on each hand:
I saw from out the wave her structures rise
As from the stroke of the enchanter’s wand.
Lord Byron greatly contributed to giving the Bridge of Sighs a romantic image, which still prevails two centuries later.
Visiting the Bridge of Sighs
The exterior of the Bridge of Sighs
From the Ponte della Paglia (in English the “Bridge of Straw”) located on the Riva degli Schiavoni (the promenade along Bacino San Marco), the view on the Bridge of Sighs is quite simply stunning.
But be warned: the Bridge of Sighs is one of the most iconic monuments in Venice and it is crowded day and night.
If you want to avoid the crowds, you can also opt for a gondola ride on Rio de la Canonica: that way, you’ll be able to admire the bridge in the comfort of your own gondola.
Made of marble and white Istrian stone, the Bridge of Sight is a prime example of Baroque style. It is 10 metres long (33 ft) and is the only fully enclosed bridge in Venice (… to prevent prisoners from trying to escape by jumping into the channel below!)
The bas-reliefs that adorn the sides of the bridge are personifications of Justice. The coat-of-arms of Doge Marino Grimani (the 89th doge of Venice) also appears on the monument.
Inside the Bridge of Sighs
The visit of the Bridge of Sighs is included in the ticket to the Doge’s Palace. Find out more about the palace in the Captain’s detailed article.
Far more plain (not to say sinister…) than the exterior, the interior of the bridge is divided into two corridors separated by a wall that made is possible for prisoners to cross paths without seeing each other.
Four small mesh openings allowed prisoners to see the Venetian lagoon as well as San Giorgio Maggiore Island in the distance.
Admission to the Bridge of Sighs
Admission to the Bridge of Sighs is included in the visit to the Doge’s Palace.
But be warned, it is very touristy and therefore crowded year long.
If you want to avoid endless queues, Captain Ulysses advises you to opt for:
- a skip-the-line ticket for 27.50 euros (25 euros for standard tickets)
- or the Venice Museum Pass, which includes skip-the-line accesses to a selection of museums and monuments (37.80 euros)
- or a guided tour of the Doge’s Palace which includes a skip-the-line ticket to the monument (42 euros)
And if you love to venture on secret and forbidden paths, why not try the secret tour of the Doge’s Palace?
You can of course walk by the Bridge of Sighs at any time of the day or night and the Captain highly recommends admiring the view at night.
As for the actual visit of the bridge, the Doge’s Palace is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The monument is closed on December 25th and January 1st.
Getting to the Bridge of Sighs
The nearest vaporetto stations are San Zaccaria and San Marco.
Venice is a very touristy city and you’ll have plenty hotels to choose from, but, be warned: they are overall rather expensive. If your budget is tight, Captain Ulysses suggests staying in Mestre, just outside of Venice, where hotels are much more affordable and you’ll find regular buses to Venice. Find out more here. For intermediate budgets, Captain Ulysses highly recommends Hotel Le Isole: ideally located a few steps from St. Mark’s Square, this beautiful hotel boasts spacious and elegant rooms. And if you’re looking for a more luxurious option in Venice, then Captain Ulysses most definitely recommends the Londra Palace nestled in a Venetian palace on the Riva degli Schiavoni.
Tickets, guided tours, gondola tours, day-trips… There are plenty of things to do in Venice. But the city is often packed with tourists, which is why Captain Ulysses recommend that you book your activities online and opt for skip-the-line tickets. The Captain suggests having a look at Musement and Tiqets, which are online platforms specialised in selling tourist activities worldwide.
Venice is synonymous gondola and vaporetto. As an accomplished sailor, Captain Ulysses can only recommend that you embark on a boat ride on the Venetian canals. But beware of cams: some gondoliers tend to take advantage of tourists! That’s why the Captain advises that you book your boat tour on a reputable website like here or here.
If you’re planning on visiting all of Venice’s top sights, Captain Ulysses recommends you to opt for a Citypass,which will give you access to a selection of the city’s must-see sights and monuments. There’s a variety of citypasses to choose from. Find out more here.
To get to Venice from the airport, you’ll have four poptions: the bus, the vaporetto (orange Alilaguna Arancio line), the taxi or the water taxi. It’s up to you to choose the option that works best for you! 🙂 Be aware, however, that the historic centre is pedestrian, and buses and taxis are not allowed to operate there.
Get ready to walk. The historic centre is not accessible to buses or cars. The local type of public transport is the vaporetto: boats travelling on the water. If you’re planning on using the vaporetto regularly (in Venice or to visit the surrounding islands like Murano and Burano), or if you are staying in Mestre and have to take the bus to Venice everyday, you might want to consider opting for a Public Transport Pass. You can book it here.
Venice is a city easily accessible by plane, train and bus. To book your plane tickets, Captain Ulysses recommends Skyscanner, which allows you to compare countless flights to find the best deal. If your dates are flexible, you can also compare prices over several months to find the cheapest flights possible. Overnight trains are also a great way to save time (and money) ! For more information, visit Trainline.com.
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