[1, 2, 3]
Figure 3 photo created using google maps

Bridge: Ponte di Rialto
Location: Venice, Italy
Year of Construction: 1250
Year of Failure: 1444
Type of Failure: Overloading

The Rialto Bridge was first conceived in 1181 as a series of floating pontoons spanning the shortest part of the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy (figure 1 gives an example of a floating pontoon bridge) [a]. The precise location of the Rialto Bridge is shown in figure 3 above. The original structure was built by Nicolò Barattieri and titled “Ponte della Moneta”, or Bridge of Money. However, the Rialto market began to flourish and due to increased traffic the pontoons soon wore down resulting in a new wooden structure in 1250 called “Ponte di Rialto”, or Bridge of Rialto [a].

In 1310 Ponte di Rialto burned during a revolution in Rialto and a new wooden bridge replaced it only to later collapse in 1444 “under the weight of spectators at the wedding ceremony of the Marchessa di Ferrara” [a]. The spectacular wedding culminated in a procession down the Grand Canal of Venice and “naturally people gathered on the only bridge crossing the canal [at the time] to watch”[a]. The congested crowd, however, caused the wooden structure to suddenly collapse. A replacement was duly built “only to suffer a similar fate, collapsing in 1524,”[a]. The latest wooden bridge was captured in Vittorio Carpaccio’s painting “Healing of the Madman” from the Miracles of the True Cross series in 1494 and can be seen in figure 2 above [a].


Figure [3] and [4] depicts the Rialto Bridge as we know it today. The stone bridge was designed by Antonio da Ponte and was finally completed in 1591 [c]. It is now a sturdy, massive stone bridge spanning 100 feet long and 70 feet wide that is “still as ponderous and solid as it was when the last stone was laid – well worthy of inspection as a sample of the durable work of that age,” [b]. The width is divided into three sections: the “centre having the greatest breadth” allows for pedestrians to pass through or stop by the flanking stone stores/booths built into the outer edge of the bridge [b]. As the pictures show, the Rialto Bridge is now a stunning piece of Venetian culture – an architectural icon for Venice [c].