The first Rialto bridge was built around 1180 by the architect Nicolò Barattieri, already known in Venice.
Rialto was the nerve center of Venetian and international trade, in this area the merchants gathered to buy and sell merchandise. The liveliness of the area inspired many artists such as Pietro Aretino, who observed the market from Palazzo Bolani Erizzo and described it in his writings, or Vittore Carpaccio who painted the market area in The miracle of the relic of the Holy Cross.
The idea of building a bridge in this very important area was born to make it easier for merchants to cross the Grand Canal, and thus reduce time and inconvenience.
The bridge - the first ever on the Grand Canal - was initially built by placing boats side by side and fixing wooden planks above them. Originally this bridge corresponded to the name of Quartarolo, which is the cost of the ferry that was previously used to access the area.
Later, between 1264 and 1265, the bridge was built of wood on stilts, but in 1310 it was destroyed by the conspirators of the insurrection led by Bajamonte Tiepolo fleeing the troops of the doge.
The bridge was soon rebuilt and lasted until 1444, the year in which it collapsed under the weight of the citizens who had climbed in admiration of the procession organized for the arrival of the Marquise of Ferrara, daughter of Alfonso V of Aragon.
After the accident, the bridge was built wider - drawbridge in the center - supported by six pylons and with shops on either side. The cost of the new construction was 2,323 ducats. This bridge lasted almost a century and a half and was renovated several times, until the decision was made to build the bridge in stone.
Several projects were presented to the Senate, until in 1588, on 9 June, the works coordinated by the engineer Antonio Da Ponte began. The works, which suffered a setback due to opponents, opposed to the construction of a stone bridge, ended in 1591. Over the centuries it has undergone restoration work, but the bridge built by Da Ponte is the one that still unites today the Riva del Vin with the Riva del Ferro.
- Discover what the Rialto area was like in the 16th century with "Del sito di Vinegia. The oldest guide to Venice", written in the 1500s by Marco Antonio Sabellico and published by Venipedia Editrice (in e-book, paper book and both ).
The bridge consists of a single arch 28 meters long and 7.5 meters high supported by 12,000 elm wood poles. On each side of the bridge there are six shops in order to divide the bridge into three ramps on each side, the central one about 20 meters wide and the two lateral ones 3 meters wide each. The shops are joined in the center of the bridge by two large arches with marble heads in the keystone. On the side of the arch that looks towards the Ponte dell'Accademia, south side, is the Annunciation sculpted by Agostino Rubini with the Angel Gabriel, the Virgin Mary and the "dove" in the center, which indicates the date of foundation of Venice, March 25, 421. On the side of the arch overlooking the Ca 'd'Oro, north side, instead, Tiziano Aspetti sculpted San Marco and San Teodoro (Todaro), the two patron saints of Venice.