26 August 2008

Rialto Bridge

Is there any sight that says “Venice” more than il Ponte di Rialto? It rests at the center of La Serenissima, a place once called Rivo Alto (“high river”) where she first began to take shape about 1500 years ago. It hooks her two sides together and makes her whole. It is the very furniture of all our Venetian dreams.

There’s a certain awe the bridge evokes as it comes into view, even for those of us who see it frequently. I have watched many a visitor as he catches his first glimpse of it, particularly coming around the bend from the north side. Inevitably the chatter halts, the eyes widen, the breathing all but stops. There is a long moment of gazing… and then the frantic fumbling for the camera.

And it’s not just my imagination – the vaporetto slows as it passes underneath it (but perhaps that’s just to safely navigate the sharp curve). Still, the sky is blotted out, the air becomes dense, the water feels very close. That deep, broad, low-slung span of white marble hanging over one’s head almost forces it downward into a peculiar kind of reverence. No coincidence in my mind. I think that’s just what its architect, Antonio da Ponte, intended. (And yes, that really was his name.)