Bridge Fifty-Nine - Ponte Briati

To be honest, we weren't planning on stopping at the Ponte Briati on our way, but something came up, or more accurately, "something sailed by". It was a boat rowed by six young girls, and what I'm sure were their rowing teachers.

Ponte briati

It's only logical that rowing would be Venice's official sport, seeing that most famies own some sort of boat, and kids are taught boating skills from an early age (in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if some of them arrived home in a boat, straight from the maternity hospital). We stood by as they floated past the bridge at a leisurely pace, probably taking a break from practising for the next regatta, one of the many held every year on the canals and lagoon. I'm a born-and-bred landlubber, and it always fascinates me how people manage to stay afloat in one of those. Like I said, it must be in the genes of Venetians who've lived with water and boats for as long as they can remember.

And who was Briati, after whom the bridge is named? Giuseppe Briati was a famous eighteenth-century glassmaker on the island of Murano. Legend has it that he travelled to Bohemia where he stole some of the glass-masters' secrets and used them in his factory which operated in the neighbourhood in days gone by. Having a glass-making business in Venice itself was a very special privilege - glass furnaces had been 'banished' to Murano to prevent fires that would have been common in an age where wood was the primary means of construction. We glanced around for anything that said 'glass' but there was nothing in sight. Just the bridge named after a once-famous entrepreneur.

Bridge Fifty-Eight - Ponte Foscarini o dei Carmini

The Ponte Foscarini o dei Carmini is named after a local palace that belonged to the Foscarini family, and a church established by Carmelite monks in the eleventh century.

Ponte Foscarini o dei Carmini

Though the stone-built bridge looks quite innocuous, like others in the city there are hints that it has a colourful history. According to some sources King Henry III of France was hosted at the palace by Giacomo Foscarini, who was a well-respected Venetian military leader and ambassador. From the vantage point of the palace's top floor they watched stick fights happening on the same bridge that now lies peaceful and quiet across from the church where Giacomo and other members of the Foscarini are buried.

Bridge Fifty-Seven - Ponte Santa Margherita

After those delicious lattés at the Ca' Foscari café we now had extra spring in our steps, and it was only a minute or two before we reached our next bridge, the Ponte Santa Margherita.

Ponte Santa Margharita

It's one of the most dressed-up of the smaller stone bridges we've seen so far, with six mascarons or decorated keystones and a stemma made up of three coats of arms adorning each side of the bridge. The mascaroni were made up of eight clown-like, grimacing faces and four lion heads, all in remarkably good condition so it's likely they'd been renovated recently.

The bridge leads onto an elongated campo with the Scuola Grande dei Carmini sitting at one end. It's another once-glorious institution now housing art exhibitions and events to earn its upkeep, and here large advertisements on easels beside the renaissance-style doorway  reminded passers-by about its 'stagione concertistica' - concert season - that featured masked opera pieces from well-known composers like Verdi and Rossini.

We were noticing a pattern emerging in the types and condition of bridges we were seeing. Most well-adorned and beautiful bridges were close to churches, palaces and other noteworthy buildings that were patronised by the aristocracy of Venice. The smaller and sometimes rather unkempt bridges were to be found in residential neighbourhoods and perhaps historically less affluent areas of the city.

Bridge Fifty-Six - Ponte Foscari

The area we're now approaching is once again student heartland. It didn't take long before we walked past the entrance to the main seat of the famous Ca'Foscari University, located right next to our next bridge, the Ponte Foscari.

Ponte Foscari

The bridge and the university building suit each other. Both are smart structures made from white stone and complement each other architecturally very well. We peeked through the gothic lunetta - an ornate portal common to decorated buildings - onto a large, quiet courtyard in front of the university building. There was an outdoor cafe to the side, and since we could do with some refreshments we decided to pause here for a while.

The cafe was quite a stylish, cosmopolitan affair serving their brews in large mugs rather than the normal cups we were used to. It was also the first time in Venice that we saw lattés - a decidedly un-Italian drink - on the menu. We expected the worst as far as the bill was concerned - elegance costs money - but when the time came to pay, it was among the cheapest places we had coffee in all of Venice. The coffee tasted first class, and for a change we didn't feel like having a second cup. Blame Starbucks, but there's something to be said for a large mug of Brazilian Arabica.

Bridge Fifty-Five - Ponte San Barnaba

Two steps away from the Ponte dei Pugni lies the Campo San Barnaba flanked by the church of that name, and yes, you guessed it, the bridge of that name as well.

Ponte San Barnaba

The campo was a hive of activity as a flea market set up right outside the church door did good business. The church is now used as an exhibition space, particularly for an exhibition of some of Leonardo da Vinci's ahead-of-their-time machinery. The church's other claim to fame is that it has appeared more than once in well-known movies, including "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade". Venice has appeared in many movies as a backdrop, starting from the early days of cinema, and seems to be firmly established on the itineraries of Hollywood location scouts.

But back to business - we're here to look at the bridges! The Ponte San Barnaba has all the elements of the nicest-looking Venice bridges with a red brick and white stone base and decorated keystone finished off by a decorative cast iron railing with a version of the leafy patterns we've seen on a few bridges before.  The keystone ornament has the date 1873 inscribed, which is probably when the bridge was rebuilt in its present form.

Bridge Fifty-Four - Ponte dei Pugni

For anybody who've spend more than a day or two in Venice or read up about the city's features and history will know about the legendary Ponte dei Pugni, or bridge of fists. Once upon a time fist-fights between two neighbourhoods separated by the bridge took place on the bridge, but right now it couldn't be more innocent-looking.

As if to prove this point and signal a change in character, a colourful and well-known fruit and vegetable boat regularly anchors next to the bridge on the Rio San Barnaba, from where it plies its trade. It has become the Ponte dei Pugni's new symbol.

Ponte dei Pugni

Today the Venice folk, while still being fiery and opinionated, hardly seem like the type who'd cross a single bridge to go and punch their fellow citizen in the face.

Bridge Fifty-Three - Ponte de l'Avogaria

We now leave the sun-drenched Fondamenta Zattere and head down  the cafe-lined Fondamente San Sebastian. We resist a sign at a restaurant saying they offered a generous choice of 37 different types of pizza, and turning right onto Calle de l'Avogaria we enter a quiet neighbourhood with hardly a soul in sight.

While our next bridge, the Ponte de l'Avogaria is a simple brick and stone bridge the canal scene from its crest is classic Venice - water as clear as a mirror, colourful buildings reflecting in the canal, and motionless boats anchored along the canal side. Another bridge, the Ponte Sartoria, which isn't on our itinerary, completes the picture.

 Ponte l'Avogaria

Bridge Fifty-Two - Ponte Molin

The last bridge on this section of our route is Ponte Molin, a relatively new addition to Venice's bridges. Built in 1936, it has all the architectural elements of many typical bridges in Venice - stone steps and an iron balustrade at its lower part, with the rest being wooden steps and rails. The bridge leads to the San Basilio boat terminal from where smaller boats depart to destinations in Croatia and along the south Italian coast.

Ponte molin

An interesting statue adorns the grounds of the rather drab-looking terminal building. It's a bronze work of a string quartet performing what one would assume is music by Vivaldi, since that's who the statue is dedicated to. Perhaps they're playing farewell and welcoming songs to the travellers departing and arriving at the terminal.

Bridge Fifty-One - Ponte Longo

At the Ponte Longo we paused for an apple and a drink of water before exploring the bridge's immediate area. The atmosphere was more lively here, lots of young people were perched in the sunshine on the water's edge and the cafés were doing good business.

Ponte Longo

A section of the Ca' Foscari university is located in the buildings here, which explained the colourfulness we saw - lots of politically inspired graffiti, more than the normal quota of posters and stickers on every surface, and the dress code of the youngsters changed from elegant or tourist-style to more edgy student fare, T-shirts, shorts, sandals, and bohemian hairstyles.

Bridge Fifty - Ponte della Calcina

And here we are, halfway on our journey! The sunshine was glorious, the scenery exquisite, and we were in Venice, what more could we ask for? 

When I started reading up about Venice in preparation for the Challenge, nineteenth-century author John Ruskin's classic book "The Stones of Venice" was one of the first I read. Apparently he stayed at the inn named La Calcina which stands at the foot of the bridge we crossed next, aptly named the Ponte della Calcina. The long, straight seaboard here is ideal for extended walks, perhaps it was such ambles that helped inspire him to put pen to paper. For a moment I could imagine him here strolling along the waterfront, lost in thought.

Ponte della calcina

Bridge Forty-Eight and Forty-Nine - Ponte de Ca' Balà and Ponte agli Incurabili

Next on the list is the Ponte de Ca' Balà, named after the once-resident Bala family. We stood on the crest of the bridge for a moment to admire the buildings of Giudecca across the water, but by now the sun was burning down on our bare heads, and with no shade coming our way we moved on a little faster to the next bridge.

The Ponte agli Incurabili is named after a hospital that treated 'incurable' diseases back in 1522, which is the year when it was established. However, what was different about this bridge was the temporary ramps constructed up and down its staircases. While the ramps were placed initially for the Venice Marathon, they were left in place to improve accessibility for those who are stopped by Venice's thousands of bridge steps from moving around freely and enjoying the city. Apparently there are moves to make these ramps more permanent. Let's hope that becomes a reality!

These days the hospital building is used as a school, and yes, we'd hardly crossed the bridge when we saw a group of little ones noisily coming from ahead under the watchful eyes of three nuns.

Bridge Forty-Seven - Ponte de l'Umiltà

We rounded the Santa Maria della Salute and walked along the adjacent Fondamenta della Dogana alla Salute to the spearhead of land marking the end of the Grand Canal and the start of the lagoon. Then we swung back onto the long, straight Fondamenta delle Zattere ai Saloni, which runs along the start of the Giudecca Canal as some call it, but it's really part of the lagoon. There's a dramatically different atmosphere in the air here, away from the claustrophobic, narrow canals and tightly packed, multi-storied houses and palaces of central Venice. This feels more like a seaside village.

We're now walking along the sunny seaboard where Fondamenta delle Zattere ai Saloni has widened into a spacious promenade with the almost turquoise, blue-green seawater on our left.  The umbrellas of the sidewalk cafés take on a different meaning here. Before they represented the bistro side of life in Venice, there they're all about ice cream and suntan lotion. There are few tourists here since there are no must-see attractions that could fit into a tour operator's itinerary.

The fondamenta  we're following goes on from here for quite a while, unbending, and the only breaks we'll get from the steady amble we're settling into are six larger-than-average bridges, all set in a straight line along the coast and crossing six canals that branch off the lagoon into the island like secondary arteries.
The first bridge on the route is Ponte de l'Umiltà, or bridge of humility. It is named for a nearby church that was demolished in the nineteenth century to make room for a garden. The bridge apparently used to be the entrance to the customs house and had a gate for that purpose, but there's none of that to be seen today.

Ponte de l'Umilita

Bridge Forty-Six - Ponte de l'Abazia

The significance of the petite, less-than-one-hundred-year-old Ponte de l'Abazia - bridge of the abbey - really faded once we stepped out of the narrow, dark calle leading up to it, and onto its few wooden steps to the crest.  That's because in front of us lay one of the most magnificent views in all of Venice - the towering Santa Maria della Salute church, its white stone facades, richly decorated,  glistening in the sun.

Ponte de l'Abazia

To the left we see the shimmering waters of the busy Grand Canal, and on the opposite bank the palaces lining the edge of the water, leading up to the two familiar columns at the entrance to St Mark's square with its domed Basilica and tall Campanile.

We have in front of us the classic Venice scene, in fact, a film buff once remarked that there isn't a film set in Venice that doesn't include a canal view of the Santa Maria della Salute church. It's the quintessential and classic Venice glimpse, the building that gets immortalised every time a boatful of tourists passes it on the canal. Doesn't matter for how long a visitor stays - a few hours or a few days - everyone leaves the city with at least this one image in their minds they'll still be painting in words or showing off in a photo album to their friends and family until the end of days.

Bridge Forty-Five - Ponte de San Gregorio

By now we'd left the crowds of Ponte dell'Accademia well behind, and there was no-one to be seen at Ponte de San Gregorio except for a lone tourist sitting at the top of the bridge staircase. 

Ponte de San Gregorio

The bridge is named after the nearby campo and adjoining church of San Gregorio where a small stand was selling brightly coloured paintings of Venetian landscapes in front of the church's Gothic and Byzantine doorway. The church has a long and colourful history - founded in the ninth century and serving for some time as a Benedictine abbey, it fell out of use and today is standing closed and empty. Shame.

Bridge Number Forty-Four - Ponte San Cristoforo

After crossing Ponte San Cristoforo we ignored the bridge at first and headed onto an adjacent small campo where a moss-covered, well-worn cast iron fountain that looked like it had been standing here since the day Venice was born poured a steady stream of cool, fresh water from a small sculpted pouting face. It was just the thing our dried-out mouths had been crying out for since five bridges back.

The Ponte San Cristoforo also looked like it had been renovated recently, with a broad flight of steps that didn't at all look like it had felt the wearing down of thousands upon thousands of feet. The way the steps wrap around the bridge at a ninety degree angle gave it a strange aesthetic appeal with the steps appearing like a wide, frozen waterfall gushing from the top of the bridge. Whoever designed the bridge definitely had a flair for visual appeal. But then, so did most of the designers of bridges in Venice.

Ponte San Christoforo

Bridge Number Forty-Three - Ponte San Vio

The Ponte San Vio is the bridge you'll cross just before you reach the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

Ponte San Vio

The plaque on the bridge's neat, white stone wall says it was renovated in 1991, which is probably true as the bridge with its simple iron balustrades supported by round stone pillars bears none of the luminous green algae sloshing in the water around its base and grassy growths creeping from cracks that are typical of older and less well-kept bridges.

We passed the Guggenheim, located in what is  the only single storey palace in Venice, about two minutes after leaving the Ponte San Vio behind. Since the Guggenheim is my favourite art gallery in Venice, it was very, very tempting to pass through its ornate gothic gateway for a quick walk-through. However, I resisted the temptation - places to go, bridges to cross, you know.

Ponte San Vio

Bridge Number Forty-Two - Ponte dell'Accademia

All four bridges over the Grand Canal are unique and recognisable in their own ways. The most telling characteristic feature of the bridge is its slender, half-moon wooden frame arching across the canal.


Accademia is one of the most recently constructed bridges in Venice, having originally been built in 1854. The present version was constructed quite recently in 1985 - a timespan that is a small speck on the calendar of ancient Venice. While it's often referred to as a 'wooden bridge' that's not strictly true, as the bridge sits on a sturdy steel underbelly.

Like the other Grand Canal bridges the Ponte dell'Accademia is during daytime a tangle of people, made worse by informal traders standing on virtually every one of its 155 steps selling anything from plastic gadgetry to locks and keys that the romantics among the passers-by can buy and attach to the bridge's railings. It's just as well the thick iron bows of the vaporettos passing underneath the bridge aren't magnetic, otherwise they'd attract hundreds of lock keys from the bottom of the canal that have been dropped by lovelock owners from the top of the bridge. Some say authorities have cracked down on the lovelock practice, but there was no sign of that happening when we were at the bridge.


Bridge Number Forty-One - Ponte dei Frati

The very broad stone and iron Ponte dei Frati leads off the Campo Sant' Anzolo straight to the doorstep of the San Stefano Convent - now used as a government department building, with its classic Byzantine-style doorway.

Ponte dei  Frati

The bridge was built by Augustinian monks in 1455 to access the convent from the relatively unimposing church - by Venetian standards, anyway - of San Stefano located on the square of the same name. It was later widened to provide access via a calle on the right-hand side to Campo Santo Stefano a short walk away. It's this route that we now follow to the first bridge on the Grand Canal we cross: The Ponte dell'Accademia.

Bridge Forty - Ponte Storto o Caotorta

Now we were back on track and standing still to look at the Ponte Storto o Caotorta in front of us, after having added an extra bridge well worth including in our planned itinerary.

Ponte Storto o Caotorta

We were watching another of those 'meet you at the bridge' scenes, where two people are having an impromptu or planned tête-à-tête at a bridge above the glimmering, almost painted  surface of the canal. We've seen many of these so far, too many to be a coincidence. It reminded me of a line in Leonard Cohen's song, The Stranger:

"Let's meet tomorrow, if you choose
Upon the shore, beneath the bridge
That they are building on some endless river . . ."

And two lines later the answer comes:
'And you say okay, the bridge or someplace later.'

We now walked across the Campo Santo Stefano with its white marble statue of Nicolo Tommaseo, author of a substantial, eight volume Italian dictionary completed in 1874, placed in the centre. A mime artist was entertaining passers-by along one section of the square, and I thought that for a busy tourist city such as Venice there were actually very few street artists to be seen. During the whole day we saw no more than three or four musicians and other performances artists along the way.


Bridge Thirty-Nine - Ponte Maria Callas

The next bridge is just a little further on the same canal and is named Ponte Storto o Caotorta, but first we did a detour to the only bridge in Venice named after a singer - the Ponte Maria Callas. The famous opera singer performed at the adjacent La Fenice theatre many times between 1947 and 1954, and it was here that she first started coming to the attention of opera fans. Thus, a most suitable honour to bestow on the diva and name a bridge after her.

Ponte de Maria Callas

Suitably elegant-looking and recently renovated in white stone with sculpted stone balustrades befitting an opera star, the sole purpose of this bridge is to provide access for patrons arriving on foot, on their way to attend shows at La Fenice.

Despite the canals in this area being generally quiet with little boat traffic on them, we could see, while standing on the crest of the the bridge, that this spot was a favourite stopover for gondolas and their crews and passengers. This was because, as we were watching, a gondola traffic jam developed as four gondolas jostled to pass each other underneath the bridge. I admired the poise of the gondoliers, maintaining their pose while almost effortlessly untangling their boats without causing any consternation or losing their composure to throw a typical traffic tantrum. Never did tourists in the gondolas for a moment change their dreamy expressions of wonder as they gazed around at the canal-side buildings and scenery surrounding their tied-up gondolas.

Watching the gondolas pass by the famous music venue, quietly and hardly causing a ripple in the water I imagined how splendid the scenery must have been here at the theatre a few hundred years ago as gaily costumed and coiffed couples arrived in style in their private gondolas for a romantic evening at the theatre. Most probably everything was dark except for the flickering lights of candles and lamps reflecting in the water, and perhaps one could hear the orchestra fine tuning their violins as they prepared for the performance. In fact, there is a small gondola landing by the side of the bridge, so you can still experience your own gondola  arrival at the theatre today, a pricey but once-in-a-lifetime experience!