The next day I began my walking tour, taking a circuitous route generally east and then south towards my primary objectives, the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge, and Piazza San Marcos. On the way, it was very easy to get a little off course as I ventured down some small narrow “streets” (more like one-way alleys). But as the day wore on, I became more confident that one way or another, these passageways were more often connected, and eventually I’d end up in another public space filled with more restaurants and shops. As the crowds got bigger, it was obvious I was in the right area.
The Grand Canal
The Grand Canal forms one of the major water-traffic corridors in the city. Public transportation is provided by water buses and private water taxis, and many tourist explore the canal by gondola. One end of the Canal leads into the lagoon near the Santa Lucia Railway Station, and the other end leads into Saint Mark Basin. In between, it makes a large reverse-S shape through the central districts of the City.
The Rialto Bridge
One of the most popular attractions in the city is the historic Rialto Bridge, which crosses the Grand Canal at its most densely developed area. Currently under renovation, the Bridge can be considered as one of the first “multiple use” solutions, in that it provided safe pedestrian crossing from one side of the Canal to the other, while at the same time providing an “attraction” for shoppers, and a source of revenue for the City! At the top of the Bridge, one can get a fantastic view and appreciation for how this part of the Grand Canal still functions as the major activity center and focal point for the City.
The Rialto Bridge got its name from the Rialto Market, a thriving outdoor market on the eastern bank of the Canal. It replaced a wooden structure in 1255 that had two inclined ramps meeting at a movable central section that could be raised to allow the passage of tall ships. During the first half of the 15th century, two rows of shops were built along the sides of the bridge. The rents brought an income to the State treasury, which helped maintain the bridge. The wooden structure was replaced in stone in 1551 after a design competition that was won Antonio da Ponte, with the new bridge completed in 1591. Although many predicted its collapse from the weight of the structure, today it remains as one of the architectural icons of Venice.
Ponte della Costituzione Bridge
Also known as the Calatrava Bridge (after its designer Santiago Calatrava), this bridge is the most recently constructed of the four major bridges that cross the Grand Canal. It was completed in 2007 and to this day continues to create controversy . . . and in my opinion, with good reason.
Its contemporary design, in stark contrast to its historic surroundings, might be forgivable but for the use of a 4-inch height step that seems unnatural to walk on and being glass, treacherous during a rainstorm (and as the photos show, falls prey to cracking). The lack of a ramp also makes the crossing a difficult challenge for luggage-toting tourists and the handicapped. Concrete steps are located in the middle, which provide for a more secure footing and seemed to be the preferred route for the delivery people pushing and pulling their carts, specially designed to meet the challenges of the shallower than normal steps.
There is a pod-like people-mover that is designed to glide along one side of the bridge, however, it did not seem to be functional and was not used to my knowledge during my time in the city. Its interesting that some of the other smaller bridges have attempted solutions to assist the pedestrian and handicapped (such as metal ramp inserts to transition the step, and rolled edges to accommodate wheels more easily; yet, at this newest of bridges these or other workable solutions have yet to be considered.