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ts name derives from what it represented until the early eighteenth century: it was a very small battlefield suspended above the canal.

The footprints in white marble still testify to this. If this bridge could speak, who knows how many clashes it would have to tell between the two Venetian factions, the Castellani and the Nicolotti.

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It often happened that the rival factions of the Castellani and Nicolotti clashed for jealousy, envy and rivalry and that their struggles took place right on this bridge which, at that time, did not have the protective shoulders as now.

The Castellani were the inhabitants of eastern Venice at whose extremity there is Castello; they were distinguished by the use of a cap and a red scarf.

The Nicolotti represented the people living in the western part up to San Nicolò dei Mendicoli; they were distinguished by the black color of the cap and scarf.

The origins of the battles between these two factions are uncertain: some think they date back to the civil wars between Eraclea and Jesolo, others from the killing of a bishop of Castello by one of the San Nicolò area.

What is certain is that these disagreements were fine by the Republic, as they knew that, in this way, if one of the two sides had rebelled against the government, the other would have done the exact opposite, so at least at the beginning , he certainly did nothing to avoid the fights, indeed.

Returning to the bridge, the central part of the bridge presents, on the four sides, a footprint highlighted in white marble: these footprints marked, on one side, the position where the contenders of each faction would place themselves to fight while, at opposite corners, there were the positions of the judges who had the task of checking the regularity of the clashes.

The fights were of three types:

  • boxing and ended at the first bloodshed (called romper el mustachio) while if the loser fell into the water the victory was considered double
  • frota was instead a fight between several people of one faction and the other who clashed, unleashing a furious brawl with no holds barred
  • orderly warfare was the conquest of the bridge by one of the two groups of people who had to push the opponents to their bank and throw as many of them into the water as possible

These animosities were regulated around 1292 and were allowed from September to Christmas; they were prohibited in 1705. As can be well calculated, these fights on the Ponte dei Pugni lasted the beauty of 413 years.

It seems that, on September 30, 1705, there was a truly bloody fight that began with fists, but degenerated to the point of knives and stones. The contenders were then separated thanks to the priest of San Barnaba who came out of the church with a crucifix in his hand.

In the following years, the two rival factions had to limit themselves to competing in less bloody activities, such as the forces of Ercore and regattas.

Currently, during the day, there is a fruit and vegetable boat right at the foot of the bridge, going towards Campo San Barnaba.

Images gallery

The bridge of fists and the bell tower of the church of San Barnaba in the background.
Joseph Heintz the Younger, Competition at the bridge of fists in Venice, 1673, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg.

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