The bridges in Venice today is, of course, hardly exactly the same bridges from a few hundred years ago, when they were first constructed.
The majority of them have been reconstructed, or at least renovated, at least two or three time since then. Most of the early bridges of Venice were made from wood and therefore prone to fires that were quite prevalent in the early days. Natural decay also caused the bridges to simple rot away after some time. So the next phase of bridge renovation was the replacement of the first generation of bridges – which were sometimes no more than narrow walkways – with longer lasting Istrian stone bridges. Many bridges became stone structures during the mid-nineteenth century, as the dates on them attest.
With industrialisation came the art of cast iron, resulting in some bridges becoming iron structures with ornate railings.
Today there are very few wooden bridges left in Venice, of which the Accademia bridge is the most famous example, even if its construction is a mix of wood and steel. Since wooden bridges need more regular maintenance than other bridges, these are also the bridges that, ironically, look the most brand spanking new of all.
The different states the bridges are in, and the plaques on bridges indicating when they were last renovated – many of them in the mid-to late 1800's and the beginning of the 21st century – tells a story of renovations that are barely keeping up with the rate of decay. Foliage growing from cracks in stone bridges and an almost translucent green layer of moss and algae covering their bases may be pretty to look at but is a sure sign of a bridge that will need renovation in the next few years.
In some cases iron bridges we’ve seen are starting to show rust damage due to a lack of painting. Others we’ve passed over are clearly newly renovated, or in the process thereof. A few years ago Venice appointed a company to look after the bridges, and the fact that most bridges are sturdy and safe means there’s no doubt that well-looked after bridges, especially those on major tourism routes, are a priority. In a harsh environment like in Venice, which is constantly battling the onslaught of the natural elements, there is inevitably a never-ending cycle of upkeep and renewal. There's a delicate balance that has to be struck between heritage and historic value on the one hand, and practicality, safety and economics on the other.