The Rialto Bridge has an ancient history. The first bridge was built in 1181 by Nicolò Barattieri, initially it was made of boats, then, in 1255 it was rebuilt in wood on stilts. Over the centuries it collapsed twice: one during the riot in 1310 of Baiamonte Tiepolo and another time in 1444 because of the excessive number of people crammed on the bridge to see the procession of boats that carried, it is thought, Frederick III.
It was rebuilt always in wood but wider, with shops on the sides and with the central mobile part to pass the trees of the boats. It was then that the bridge was called “di Rialto”, as we know it today.
The painting by Vittore Carpaccio The healing of the obsession, now preserved at the Gallerie dell’Accademia, shows how it was: a wooden drawbridge.
In 1514 there was a huge fire that burned much of the bridge and surrounding houses. And the doge accepted the proposal to rebuild it completely in stone to make it more solid and secure. Antonio Da Ponte’s project was accepted: the bridge would have been a single span and not three spans as proposed by others.
In 1588 the dismantling of the shops on the wooden bridge of Rialto began and the demolition of the same. The houses around Campo San Bortolo mio were also demolished, to increase the space of the area near the bridge under construction. The poles, built bulkheads, were cleaned from the mud. Timber and large blocks of Istrian stone arrived in Venice and filled all the fields of the city.
In the same year the first stone was laid and actual work began.
The work of the bridge was completed in 1590 and then the shops were built in the arch. 1591 saw the completion of the Rialto Bridge as it currently stands on the Grand Canal.
Over the centuries, mainly two to the terracotta paving, two to the continuous passage, became flaky and became dangerous for the crossing. In 1677 it was replaced with a “masegni” floor, the Euganean trachyte of which Venice is still paved.
In 1739 the bridge was completely restored and in 1769, after a fire that burned the intermediary and the shops on the side of the bridge that goes from the Fondaco dei Tedeschi to the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi, it was restored and rebuilt in the most damaged parts.
Many restorations and few changes. The Rialto Bridge is the oldest in the city.