Looking around the bridge I noticed an iron ladder running from the water up to the top of the bridge. However, there was no entrance to the ladder from the top, the iron railing closed it off. Strange. Must be a remnant from an older version of the bridge. Like most things in Venice, it's probably undergone a good number of renovations in the past few hundred years, with the latest renovation never quite succeeding in obliterating the past completely.
Notice the red blanket reflecting in the canal water. As you'll see in many of the bridge photographs taken during the Challenge, Venice is a city of canal reflections, which one can see as a metaphor for a watery Venetian mask - hinting at what lies beyond.
All this sitting around drinking coffee and fooling with fifteenth century art put us behind on our schedule, so we didn't spend too much time at the eleventh bridge, the Ponte de la Panada, which links two busy shopping streets across a pretty-looking canal. The real intention with the name 'Panada' is lost in antiquity, and modern interpretations vary. It could refer to a locally made soup, or a type of window covering. Your choice.
It's still early morning in Venice as we continued on the Bridge Challenge. Few tourists to be seen, just locals going off to work, and as we left and I took the last photograph, a mother crossing the bridge on her way to take her little girl to school.
Next to the hospital is a church that at the time of our visit resembled a construction site. Look at the Venetian skyline as you approach the city from the mainland or another island, and chances are you'll count up to a dozen construction cranes breaking the regular skyline of orange roofs and campaniles. Venice seems to be under perpetual renovation, and during the time of the Bridge Challenge it was the turn of the Santi Giovanni e Paolo church. First built in 1246 and completed in its present form in 1460, it's one of the most important churches in Venice, among other because it is the final resting place for a 'royal' collection of no less than twenty-five Doges.
Back to the hospital building. Its facade is an impressive, large work of sculptural art that is truly worth taking more than a cursory look at. Which is why we took a coffee break at one of the cafes on the campo and, having no guidebook to know what we were looking at, played guessing games with the carved figures that fill the facade. Easiest to recognise was the familiar winged lion at the summit. But what are the two chaps, each holding rather voluminous books and standing on each side of the building's entrance door reading? What are the names of all the babies and toddlers floating around the facade like cherubs? Shouldn't that naked little one at the top of the door be wearing nappies? Giggling away, we sat there like schoolchildren on a school trip. Never thought a walk across one hundred bridges could be so much fun.
The Conzafelzi bridge has interesting iron castings in its railings that share a common Venetian artistic theme but at the same time are rather special in design. One piece features the familiar head of a lion, and another a flowery, almost mandala-like pattern. The wording 'Fonderia Collalto' is embossed on the side of the railing, which is the name of the foundry where the bridge was cast.
Quite clearly the day of the Bridge Challenge was rubbish collection day in Venice. En-route between the bridges it was clear that Venice was struggling with a waste overload, or rather bad management thereof. Venetians were dumping COOP plastic bags filled with household waste quite randomly in public areas, as the pile we encountered by the foot of the Conzafelzi bridge showed. For the next two or three days we still noticed uncollected rubbish, but then a cursory overview of the history of Venice shows that for most of the past thousand years the city's waste management has been a problem. There are simply too few boats to carry the city's waste away fast enough, or the available boats are too small.
It's a nice, sturdy brickwork and stone bridge that was renovated in 1998 according to the plaque on the side.
The early summer sunlight bathing the bridge and the balcony flower boxes with their red geraniums gave the bridge scene a cheery atmosphere. There's a decorated white centre keystone that features the head of a lion, Venice's mascot animal one sees everywhere in relief. A curious feature is the well-worn and ancient-looking metal straps that seem to hold the large stones topping the walkway walls in place. Now these couldn't seriously be holding the bridge together, could they?
The one end of the Giuffa bridge leads onto the Campo Santa Maria Formosa, a large square that gives one, like all the many other campos in Venice, a glimpse of daily life in Venice. At this stage it was still relatively early in the day, and the morning rituals of Venice were still under way. Looking at the bridge we witnessed a fairly common occurrence in Venice - the pulling of a wheeled cart across the bridge. Goods transport in Venice involves hauling delivery carts generally the size of ping pong tables or smaller through the alleys, squares and over bridges to collect and deliver everything from foodstuffs to building material and medicines, stationery... in fact everything you can think of is delivered this way, boat to door, as it were. I wondered how many bridges the average delivery guy crosses every day and whether it ever made them feel a bit despondent, this never-ending slog, but the one we spotted pushing his cart across the bridge with the help of two colleagues seems quite unfazed.
The Ponte de Ruga Giuffa is one of four bridges lined up within a few meters of each other across the same canal bordering the campo. They're all different in style; next to the stone Giuffa bridge is a pretty bridge, also built in stone, leading to the rather grand Palazzo Malipiero hotel, while the bridge to the art museum Querini Stampalia Foundation is a surprisingly utilitarian, no-nonsense bridge, the kind of bridge of which there are very, very few in Venice.
Tourists come here to see what's inside the Santa Maria Formosa church - a more than average-sized collection of paintings by Venetian masters. But many outside of the must-see guided groups also sit down on one of the red wooden benches next to the Giuffa bridge for a few minutes to do a bit of people watching. You may see someone collecting water from the well, a group of harmonium players taking a rest on the bench next to yours, or in the late afternoon, a few local kids kicking a soccer ball around. Squares like these are the hubs for daily life in Venice, and taking in daily life at leisure here adds just a little salt and pepper to the well-trodden sight-by-sight visits most tourists here spend most of their time visiting.
Quite a few bridges in Venice - at least six of them - are named 'Ponte Storto', and I couldn't see a way the company in charge of Venice's bridges, Insula, could easily distinguish between them other than having to look up co-ordinates or addresses each time the had to go scrub off some new graffiti or repair crumbling brickwork. I’d imagine the phrase ’what Ponte Storto are you talking about?’ is one probably heard quite often in Venice.
So, bridge number six was the first of many ’stortos’ we encountered on the Challenge route. It's a small stone bridge dating from the 1800s but, as in many cases, earlier versions of the same bridge dates back to the 1500s with simple iron railings that crosses the narrow, quiet Rio del Remedio at an angle, running into a narrow alley at each end. If you stay at the Casa Verardo hotel you'll be crossing this bridge a few times since the front door of the hotel leads directly onto the bridge.
And now, quickly moving on to the next bridge...
Nobody really pays too much attention to Challenge bridge number five, the Ponte della Paglia, yet almost every single visitor to Venice pauses on it to get a view of the iconic and legendary Bridge of Sighs, the staple of every package tour itinerary that visits the city. Quite ironic, won't you say?
There's an interesting white bas-relief on the side of the bridge, called 'Madonna of the Gondoliers'. Small shrines such as this are fairly common in Venice, but this one has a small depiction of a gondola with its seat area covered, below the image of the Madonna.
The Ponte de la Paglia, being adjacent to the Ponte del Vin on the popular Riva degli Schiavoni walkway, carries thousands upon thousands of pairs of feet every day, and I was relieved that we passed this way early in the morning, avoiding the rush.
This was the scene we encountered at bridge number four, Ponte del Vin, so named because boats carrying wine used to anchor near the bridge. It's a stone bridge with an ornate balustrade that has a stunning view of St Mark's basin and life on the lagoon that Venice has such a special relationship with. During daytime the bridge is overwhelmed with tourists - it's a stone's throw from the Piazza San Marco, the staple must-see on the itinerary of all visitors to Venice. Plan your visit to this area for late afternoon or early morning unless you want to have to elbow your way into a decent viewing spot at the top of the bridge.
Right next door to the Ponte del Vin is one of the most famous hotels in Venice - the Danieli. Remember the thriller movie The Tourist? The Danieli makes a star appearance in that film. We poked our heads through the doorway to look at the truly magnificent interior of the hotel, and promised ourselves to visit for a night cap here soon. No time right now - too many bridges to climb!
I have an off-hand interest in the history of aristocracies that ended in bad luck, so the nearby statue of King Victor Emmanuel II on the Riva degli Schiavoni deserved some attention. The artwork on the sides and smaller statues around the one of the king on his horse are an interesting exercise in testing one's history, mythology and symbolism knowledge with the result that we spent much more time at this bridge than was allocated.
This bridge was our next destination, a quick walk away along the canal past the maritime museum and to the edge of the lagoon. It’s a beautiful stone bridge with flowing curves and sweeping views over the dark green water of the basin. A trademark antique street lamp near the foot of the bridge completed a uniquely Venetian scene that has probably found its way into thousands of photo albums around the world.
The four pointed stone needles shooting like new sprouts from the top part of the bridge are almost unique - we only crossed two bridges on the whole Challenge that have these.
A short walk away from bridge number one, the Ponte dei Giardini bridge, we passed a thought-provoking work of art: The Monumento alla Partigiana Veneta monument. Commonly referred to as the 'La Partigiana', facing the sea, it is dedicated to the women who fought in the resistance movement against Fascism during the time of the Second World War. It's a statue of a woman lying down with her hands tied and positioned more or less level with the lagoon's low tide mark. Years of the ocean water's ebb and flow over it has tinged the sad figure green by moss and sea algae. During high tide she's submerged and invisible, but right now she's elevated just enough to make it look like she's floating on the lagoon. Is this the world's only statue that is under water half the time?
A walk along the seaboard and then up Fondamenta dell'Arsenale took us to one of the signature wooden bridges in Venice, the Ponte dell'Arsenale. It has a unique and characteristic pointed shape crossing over the fairly broad Rio dell'Arsenale. On one side it faces the impressive pillared entrance to the Arsenale - a well-known image of Venice - complete with its white, maned Piraeus lion and three companions standing guard by the side of the entrance. Two of the sculptures came as booty all the way from Piraeus in Athens, Greece - which at the time was part of the Ottoman Empire - after a successful campaign by Venetian forces in 1687.
The Arsenale area of Venice is pleasant to visit - not too crowded, and more spacious than most of Venice. The Arsenale itself, once one of the world's foremost shipyards that employed thousands of workers known as 'Arsenalotti', is now used for country exhibitions during one of the world's largest art and architecture events, the Venice Biennale. The industrial decay of empty warehouses, disused cranes and other rusty mechanical skeletons that dot the landscape is a suitable backdrop for artistic expression, and even outside Biennale time it's worthwhile exploring for an hour or two.
The 6.25 am vaporetto from Murano anchors noisily at Giardini station. It's seven in the morning, and we're the only passengers alighting. The air is crisp even though the sun is bright in a cloudless sky, a precursor of what the rest of the day would be like.
It's a short walk to the first bridge of the Challenge, the Ponte dei Giardini. The bridge is located at the top end of the Giardini, or gardens, where the Venice Biennale is held, and is therefore surrounded by lush trees and shrubbery. On the other side is the beautiful, treed Via Garibaldi - a broad, country-like lane certainly not a view generally associated with the city of Venice. For most people the image of Venice is one of tall, tightly packed buildings with narrow corridors and canals separating them.
Originally a wooden bridge, the Ponte dei Giardini is now an unusually wide, almost flat stone bridge on a quiet canal that partially borders the Giardini. Its present appearance dates from 1807, the same period the Giardini were constructed. From afar it doesn't resemble a bridge at all, and people crossing it probably won't realise there's a bridge under their feet.
The Giardini were laid out on the orders of Napoleon when he conquered the city in 1797. He brought a distinctly Parisian design ethic to the city, and construction of the gardens necessitated the destruction of more than a few historic churches in the area. It is the most obvious attraction in the area and most certainly the best place for quiet walks in the garden itself and along the lagoon. The garden is rich with works of art, mostly clearly French-inspired since the Venetians weren't really into sculptures at that stage; such works of art were regarded as dangerous self-promotion in a fiercely controlled society. It's home to thirty seven sculptures and statues, or about half of all those in Venice.
Next up: Ponte dell'Arsenale
So if you're looking for something Venetian to decorate your home with or have an empty wall to fill, this poster is ideal! You can order one now!
I've not been posting here, purely because I use the 100 Venice Bridges Challenge Facebook page as a means of keeping everyone updated while the Challenge was under way. It was just easier, quicker and less painful while I was on the road in Europe. So this blog stood still. Sorry.
Suffice it to say the Challenge day was a highlight of my life. Really. I took myself out of my comfortable, cushy home in Johannesburg and gave myself a little to-do I wasn't quite sure I'd be able to complete. I'm no spring chicken anymore, and a gym hasn't seen me for, what, the past seven or eight years. Everywhere I went and uttered 'one hundred bridges in a day' I saw raised eyebrows.
Make no mistake, I had more than a few blisters at the end of the day, my face was a shade of pink as a result of sunshine overdosing and my camera shoulder was aching like mad. But I'd climbed two and a half thousand steps without incident, hadn't fallen into a canal, and didn't get smacked by any locals I bumped into because I was too busy looking at bridges to see where I'm going.
We started at seven in the morning in the Giardini, fresh off the vaporetto from Murano where we were staying, and ended fourteen hours later at Ponte Gheto Novo. Inbetween lay ninety eight small, large, flat, steep, iron, stone, and wooden bridges of all shapes and sizes.
It would be a world record, if there were a category for it. Hundred bridges crossed in a day.
So that's history, and all I have now are lots of photos, and a head full of information. Lots of information. Here, at the Venice Bridges blog, is where I'm going to lay it out, everything I've seen and learnt from the crest of a bridge in Venice.
First thing off the conveyer belt will be the bridges e-book which should be available on i-Books if the Apple gods approve. There are stories galore to tell. There are posters by the dozens to make. There's a guide book or two in the making. There are cups with pretty pic... no, scrap that. Enough people are producing cups, aprons and calendars with pretty pictures of Venice. My photos are the real Venice, with the crowds, the grafitti, the stuff drifting in the canal. It's Venice from the top of a bridge at eleven in the morning, not before dawn with the pretty sunrise and no-one around.
So stay in touch, bookmark, follow, etcetera.
We've never been really prepared for getting wet when we visited Venice before. We own more umbrellas we've bought in Venice than we've acquired in South Africa in a lifetime. Certainly the chances of rain on the day is quite high, given Europe's tendency for a downpour every second day. Mental note: Buy rain-proof cover for camera.
I decide to play devil's advocate. 'What if it happens to be the highest acqua alta in history on the day?'
For the uninitiated, acqua alta refers to the unusually high tide that hits the sinking city of Venice every now and again. Lately it's been particularly high, turning St Mark's Square into a huge swimming pool and making shopping by boat quite normal.
Now imagine if I have to cross one hundred bridges in Venice on 24 April, rowing from one bridge to another. Or even just sloshing the route through ankle high water.
So this afternoon Adeline came home with a large package and ceremoniously unpacked it on the kitchen table. It contained two sets of wellies. Not just ordinary wellies, but one set with Impressionist flower patterns on, and the other with a kind of Botticelli fantasy of heaven, or something.
Don't worry everyone, we won't stand out in Venice, there gumboots are style accessories. We may in fact be underdressed, depending on the fashion of the day in waterproof wear.
So come rain or acqua alta the Challenge will go on. In fact, it may just go swimmingly. And we're prepared.
If you haven't done so yet, please support the 100 Venice Bridges Challenge over at Indiegogo, and receive a postcard from Venice, or more!
It's quite difficult choosing the first bridge of the one hundred I'll be crossing during the 100 Venice Bridges Challenge. Should it be the prettiest bridge? One that'll make a good photograph in the early hours of the morning? Or one that's at point that is a logical start of a route across Venice, seeing that I've only got twelve hours or so to pass by each one of them. Sigh, choices, choices...
After looking at the map of a while I decided to start at the bridge which is probably the remotest on the island, on it's south-eastern corner - the Bridge of Gardens in Castello. I vaguely recall passing by this bridge on a previous trip when I visited the Biennale, so if you're familiar to Venice you'll know which area I mean. It's an area that's strangely un-Venetian, with parks and open space quite unique to the well-know and much-photographed Venice, which is densely built-up and cluttered in a way. It's in fact quite a nice area to unwind in after a long day of museum visits and surviving the tourist crowds.
When I got the idea for the 100 Venice Bridges Challenge a few weeks ago, I thought it would just be something to do while I'm in Venice for ten days in April.
But then one conversation around the kitchen table led to another, and I thought to myself, why not make it into a book?
I've published a few photo collections through the years, so if I was going to end up with a few hundred photos of different bridges in Venice, why not do the same?
More-over, why not make it something other lovers of could participate in through social networks on the Internet?
That led me to set up the Indiegogo campaign to crowdfund the Challenge, but also to share some goodies I can make while at it.
After a week or so of writing, gathering material and jumping through all the hoops the Indiegogo campaign to raise money that'll enable me to publish the Challenge book in the second half of the year is now ready.
You can visit the campaign page here and find out more about the Challenge and see some of the benefits I'm offering - a postcard from Venice, a poster I'll be producing, and of course, signed copies of the book itself.
Please help me realise this goal by supporting it through Indiegogo!
While I'm doing the best I can to ensure I can move from one bridge to another without losing my way (I'm counting on you, Google Maps) I'll be quite surprised if I'm not waylaid once or twice. Given that I'm on a very, very tights schedule it's going to be interesting to see how that affects how long the Challenge takes.
It brings up lots of memories from the series Amazing Race, where sometimes competing couples soldiered on long into the night in order to complete a challenge (!!) only to give up all tired and flustered, and be elimiminated from the race.
Fortunately I'll have Adeline with me. I may be the better reader in the family but she's way more direction conscious than me. Which should be make for a good couple to make sure I stay on time.