Bridge Five - Ponte della Paglia

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?

The Ponte della Paglia's name refers to boats filled with straw that passed by here during the time when horses and donkeys were still part of everyday life in Venice. The centre of the bridge offers an excellent view of the famous Bridge of Sighs, which incidentally isn't one of the 100 Venice Bridges Challenge since it is only accessible from inside the Doge's Palace, a building which the bridge connects to the old prison next door.

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.

Bridge Four - Ponte del Vin

At seven in the morning you can count the number of tourists on the streets of Venice on the fingers of one hand. And why should a person on holiday surface at that ungodly hour anyway? The only persons on the streets are those that participate in around-dawn rituals found in communities all over the world - vendors setting up their stands, rubbish removers pushing carts about, and restaurant workers sweeping the pavement in front of their eateries, opening up for the first guests who'll shortly be staking their places at sidewalk tables.

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.

Bridge Three - Ponte San Biasio o delle Catene

Look up the canal toward the sea, away from the Arsenale and you'll see the canal as it heads for the St Mark's sea basin, and where the canal ends, the Ponte San Biasio o delle Catene.

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.

Bridge Two - Ponte dell'Arsenale

This is a serialisation of the bridge-by-bridge story of the 100 Venice Bridges Challenge. It starts off at our apartment in Murano about 5am, when we rose, yawning, showered, dressed, grabbed a quick breakfast, packed our sandwiches, cameras and GPS, and left to catch a vaporetto to Venice.


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.