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The Bridge of Sighs, the Bridge of the Sorrowful...

The Bridge of Sighs in Venice italy
The Bridge of Sighs in Venice
The Bridge of Sighs crosses the channel which separates the ducal palace from the prison. It is called it “Bridge of Sighs” because they imagined the complaints of the convicted prisoners who crossed it as they went directly from the court to the prison or their prison cell (or the room of torment also).

Closed like a Trunk

The cries of the unseen men who proclaimed their innocence, or who called for help were completely stifled. This assured discretion, well guarded secrecy, and no chance of escape!

Indoors, it is a double hall separated by a wall; a prisoner could cross without being able to see anyone, or speaking to another. Organization, effectiveness! In brief, the one who crossed this bridge simply ceased to exist.

Bridge of Sighs (photograph 1890)
Bridge of Sighs (photograph 1890)

The History of the Bridge of Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs was constructed in 1602 to link up the facade of the Ducal Palace with the newly established Prison established in 1589 by Antonio Da Ponte, section head of the Bureau of the Salt of Venice which financed building.

It is of baroque style, drawn by the architect A. Contino.

It is the only covered bridge in Venice. And entirely closed: windows are narrow and let very little light pass through their stony wire netting, where from they can catch a glimpse of San Giorgio and the Lagoon.

It was the last picture of the freedom for those who were going to spend the remainder of their days in prison. A moment of intense regrets and sadness.

The Windows of the Bridge of sigh
Windows Bridge of sigh
Inside is much less pleasant than the outside: it is a sinister prison hall separated in the middle by a partition. On the one side the noble party of the Ducal Palace: the office of the Magistrate in Laws and the Room of Quarantined Criminals, on the other the prison and the Headquarters of the Police.

This “double passage” was also interconnected with the service staircase inside the Ducal Palace which went from “Wells” (dark and quite damp dungeons) of the basement, to the “Leads” where one choked in cells under roofs covered with big lead plates.

Casanova and the Bridge of Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs Photograph 1870 Naya Carlo
The Bridge of Sighs (Photograph 1870)
Giacomo Casanova succeeded in getting away from Leads.

He tells the tale in History of my Life:
« The Leads, used for the confinement of state prisoners, are in fact the lofts of the ducal palace, and take their name from the large plates of lead with which the roof is covered.

One can only reach them through the gates of the palace, the prison buildings, or by the bridge of which I have spoken called the Bridge of Sighs. »
Giacomo Casanova

John Ruskin and the Bridge of Sighs

In 1845, Ruskin writes in his diary:

« Towards Rialto, at twilight, when I was under the arc of the bridge, what did I see throughout the channel, until Ca ' Foscari?... Standard lamps with gas! [...]

Bridge of Sighs: a Sarcophagus
Bridge of Sighs: a Sarcophagus
And the biggest of them, the most showy, under the Bridge of Sighs.

Imagine serenades in the light of gas street-lamps... »
John Ruskin

A Sarcophagus which flies away

« The bridge of Sighs is a sarcophagus which flies away.

Tragedies of the Doges are the games of glory and love. »
André Suarès.

« A lowered arch, a small Doric order with embossed, circular pediments overloaded with some windings, such is the Bridge of Sighs.

Byron: Tourist view of the Bridge of sighs
Byron: Bridge of sighs
It is properly speaking only a passage ten meters in lengths driving sheltered from the Ducal Palace to the prison, and, furthermore, a very ordinary work for the architect of the Bridge.

Certainly Byron's poetries more made for the illustration of the Bridge of the Sighs that the talent of the architect which constructed it. »
Adolphe Lance - Excursion in Italy 1859

Lord Byron, the author of the Blunder

The first stanza of “Childe Harold” shows us how Lord Byron felt uplifted by the Bridge of Sighs:

« I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs;
A palace and a prison on each hand;
I saw from out the wave of her structure’s rise
As from the stroke of the enchanter’s wand. »
Lord Byron - Childe Harol

Romantic Error

The Only Smile of the Bridge of Sighs
The Only Smile of the Bridge of Sighs
It is the beginning of the historical and romantic error which is going to make Shighs of the Bridge of the Sigh, the Bridge dei Sospiri, and the Bridge of, the bridge of the lovers who sigh!

Calamitous error when considering all the poor people who sighed by saying their farewell… to life.

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