The Bridge of Sighs: A Venice Icon with a Rich History

The Bridge of Sighs is one of the most iconic landmarks in Venice. It’s a beautiful bridge that crosses over the Rio di Palazzo and connects the Doge’s Palace to the prison. The bridge gets its name from the sighs of prisoners who were leaving Venice for the last time, knowing they would never return.

The Bridge of Sighs is one of the most photographed and famous bridges in Venice, designed by architect Antonio Contino. If you plan a trip to this quaint city, then chances are that it’s certainly on your bucket list!

The picture above shows what looks like an old bridge with piles supporting its ornate ceilings but I assure everyone reading will know exactly where we’re talking about when we mention “the” iconic landmark – The Ponte dei Sospiri (The Bridge of Sighs).

The odd thing about this famous bridge is that most people believe it got its name from the swooning of hopelessly-in-love lovers. That makes complete sense. After all, isn’t Venice one of the world’s most romantic locations? That would only make sense, right? Wrong…

Where does the name Bridge of Sighs really come from?

The Bridge of Sighs is one of the most iconic landmarks in Venice, and it has a fascinating history. The bridge was built in the early 17th century to connect the city’s prison with the Inquisitor’s offices residing inside the Doge’s Palace, which was located on either side of the canal.

The New Prison (Prigione Nuovo in Italian) was one of the first known buildings in the world built specifically as a prison.

The view from inside the Bridge of Sighs (Photo: Sean Munson)

Prisoners would cross the bridge on their way to their cells, and it is said that they would sigh in despair at the thought of never seeing Venice again. Today, the bridge is a popular tourist destination, and visitors can enjoy views of the canal and the city from its vantage point.

“Many an innocent man to walk the Bridge of Sighs and descend into the dungeon which none entered and hoped to see the sun again.”

Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain

Best ways to see the Bridge of Sighs

You have several ways of viewing the only covered bridge in Venice, built in a baroque style which is a must-see when you’re here.

  1. The best place to see the Bridge of Sighs is from another bridge, namely the Ponte della Canonica, which will give you a great viewing point.
  2. Another great bridge to view the Bridge of Sighs from is the busier Ponte della Paglia (eng. Bridge of Paglia). It’s the first bridge you’ll come upon if you walk from the Doge’s Palace, heading north, with your back against the lagoon.
  3. If you do make a paid visit to the Doge’s Palace you’ll have the possibility to walk the baroque Bridge of Sighs from the inside. This will also give you the opportunity to tour the prisons and while walking the bridge, peak outside and imagine what it was for the prisoners of old. The inside of the bridge is very narrow. This is because it’s divided in the middle by a wall, to ensure that prisoners never met each other if they walked in opposite directions.
  4. The most romantic way to enjoy the Bridge of Sighs is to take a classic gondola through the narrow canal. Riding a gondola in Venice is pretty pricey, but it’s a well worth investment if you want to enjoy the beauty of Venice. Not only will you be able to see the Sighs Bridge, but also enjoy the Doge’s Palace and much more in the surrounding beautiful Venice.

Things you maybe didn’t know about Bridge of Sighs

Photo: John Naughton
  • The most famous escapee from the New Prison over Bridge of Sighs is none other than Giacomo Casanova. He was arrested in 1755 for spreading an affront to religion which concerned authorities greatly because it was a major problem here at that time period when Venice’s population consisted almost entirely of Catholics who revered their church very much and the Catholic establishment. Casanova spent 15 months in prison until a monk helped him escape from his imprisonment on the top floor of the Doge’s Palace.
  • Legend has it that if you kiss your loved one under the Bridge of Sighs while taking a gondola ride, they will always be there by your side and eternal love will be found.
  • It is the only bridge in Venice that is entirely enclosed.
  • The Bridge of Sighs is made from a type of white limestone known as Istrian stone. These stones are quarried in Istria, a region of modern-day Croatia. The limestone is a soft rock that is easy to carve and has a beautiful milky-white color. It is also very durable, which is why it was used for the construction of the Bridge of Sighs and many other bridges.
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Daniel Carlbom
I love to travel and explore the world with my family. When I'm not traveling, time is usually spent enjoying time with my wife and kids at home, playing with the dogs, or roaming around with a camera.

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