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From palace to prison: Crossing the Bridge of Sighs

4.3(19.5K Ratings)

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Guided Tours
3.9(318)

Doge's Palace Guided Tour

from
€56.32
Instant confirmation
Mobile ticket
50 min. - 1 hr. 15 min.
  • An in-depth experience of the Doge's Palace awaits on this expertly crafted tour in the language of your choice.
  • Walk through opulent gold-ceiling rooms as you hear their unbelievable stories – like the Council of Ten Chamber that used to house Venice's secret police!
  • Look out for detailed sculptures that adorn the façade, like Noah's Drunkenness by Filippo Calendario, and Adam and Eve by Antonio Rizzo.
  • Short on time and want to maximize value? Select the express guided tour option to explore hidden chambers and uncover dark conspiracies.
  • After your tour, explore the 3 museums in St. Mark's Square on your own: Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, and the Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana.
  • An in-depth experience of the Doge's Palace awaits on this expertly crafted tour in the language of your choice.
  • Walk through opulent gold-ceiling rooms as you hear their unbelievable stories – like the Council of Ten Chamber that used to house Venice's secret police!
  • Look out for detailed sculptures that adorn the façade, like Noah's Drunkenness by Filippo Calendario, and Adam and Eve by Antonio Rizzo.
  • Short on time and want to maximize value? Select the express guided tour option to explore hidden chambers and uncover dark conspiracies.
  • After your tour, explore the 3 museums in St. Mark's Square on your own: Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, and the Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana.

Inclusions

  • Guided tour of Doge's Palace with skip-the-line entry
  • English, German, French, Spanish or Italian-speaking guide
  • Headsets
  • Access to Museo Correr
  • Access to Archaeological Museum
  • Access to Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Marciana
  • Express 'mysteries and secrets' guided tour of Doge's Palace (optional)
  • Tip: Capture stunning views of the Grand Canal from the palace's balconies, offering a unique perspective of Venice's iconic waterways.
  • Shutterbugs, take note: Flash photography, tripods, selfie sticks, and any type of commercial photography is a no-go inside the venue.
  • Please note that the Secret Itineraries, Prisons and Armoury are not accessible by wheelchair and pram/stroller.
  • Ramps and elevators are available at the venue for easy access.
  • These tickets can't be cancelled or rescheduled.
Doge's Palace Bridge of Sighs

Bridge of Sighs: Myth & mystery of the Venetian justice system

Tucked away within the Doge's Palace complex in Venice, Italy, lies the Bridge of Sighs, a hauntingly beautiful enclosed bridge crafted from white limestone. Spanning the Rio di Palazzo, the bridge connects the palace to the New Prison. Renowned for its stunning Baroque design and the poignant legends that surround it, the bridge stands as one of Venice's most celebrated and romantic landmarks.

Bridge of Sighs in a nutshell

  • Year of construction: 1600 - 1603
  • Architect: Antonio Contino (believed to be)
  • Architectural style: Baroque
  • Material: White limestone
  • Function: Connected the Doge's Palace interrogation rooms to the New Prison (Prigioni Nuove)
  • Famous for: Enclosed walkway with small, barred windows. Name derived from the romantic (possibly fictional) notion of prisoners sighing as they caught their last glimpse of Venice before imprisonment.

Historical insights of Bridge of Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs was constructed between 1600 and 1603 by architect Antonio Contin, nephew of Antonio da Ponte, who designed the famous Rialto Bridge. Commissioned to connect the Doge's Palace to the New Prison (Prigioni Nuove), the bridge allowed for secure prisoner transfers directly from the courtroom to their cells. 

This enclosed, Baroque-style bridge spans the Rio di Palazzo canal and features small windows with stone bars, ensuring privacy while transporting prisoners. The name "Bridge of Sighs" comes from the prisoners' melancholic sighs as they crossed it, giving them their final view of the outside world before imprisonment.

Architectural features | Bridge of Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs, despite its relatively small size, boasts a captivating design that blends functionality with Baroque flair. Here's a closer look at its key architectural features:

Material used

Constructed from white Istrian limestone, from Istria, modern day Croatia. It was a popular choice for building materials in Venice during that era due to its durability and elegant appearance.

Enclosed passageway

Unlike most bridges, the Bridge of Sighs is fully enclosed, creating a sense of isolation. This design likely aimed to maintain prisoner privacy and security during their transfer.    

Barred windows

The bridge has two small, arched windows on each side, fitted with intricately designed stone bars. These windows offer limited views of the San Giorgio and the Lagoon, allowing light to filter through the stone lattice.

Single arch design

The 11 m long bridge features a single, lightly curved arch that spans the Rio di Palazzo canal. This design element not only provided structural support but also contributed to the bridge's overall aesthetic appeal.                                         

Macaron faces

The bridge features macaron faces on the bottom arch, which are a characteristic of the Italian Baroque style, intended to ward off evil spirits. These faces depict a range of emotions, with 10 showing fear and sadness, while only one is smiling.

Integration with surrounding architecture

The design of the bridge complements the architectural styles of the Doge's Palace and the New Prison, seamlessly integrating with their Gothic and Renaissance elements.

Legends and myths of Bridge of Sighs

Origin of the name

The evocative name, credited to Lord Byron, the famous Romantic poet, comes from the legend that prisoners, crossing from the Doge's Palace interrogation rooms to the New Prison, would sigh deeply as they took one final look at Venice through the bridge's small windows, filled with sorrow and longing before their imprisonment or execution.

The romantic legend

According to a romantic myth, lovers who kiss under the Bridge of Sighs at sunset, as the bells of St. Mark's Campanile ring, will be granted eternal love and happiness. This belief has made the bridge a popular spot for couples seeking to seal their love.

Casanova's connection

The legendary Giacomo Casanova, famed for his romantic exploits, briefly added to the Bridge of Sighs' mystique. Though he wasn't imprisoned via the bridge, his daring escape from the Doge's Palace in 1755 fueled the romantic image of the bridge, further cemented by his own accounts.

Cultural significance of the Bridge

Though a small structure, the Bridge of Sighs speaks volumes about Venetian history, justice, and the power of storytelling.

  • Symbol of justice: Primarily, the bridge represents the justice system of Venice, a reminder of the finality faced by those condemned within the Doge's Palace.
  • Artistic inspiration:  The bridge's evocative nature has captured the imagination of artists for centuries. Paintings by Canaletto and M.J. Turner depicts its architectural details, while Lord Byron's poem "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" immortalized the bridge's name and its association with sorrow.
  • A bridge in film:  The bridge's visual appeal and dramatic history have made it a fixture in films.  From the classic "Casanova" (1927) to the thriller "The Italian Job" (1969), the Bridge of Sighs continues to add a touch of Venetian mystique to the silver screen.

Visitor information

  • Accessibility: Unfortunately, you cannot walk the Bridge of Sighs unless you book the Doge's Palace Secret Itinerary Tour, a separate ticketed experience with limited availability.
  • Experience: During this tour, you'll walk through the same passage used by prisoners centuries ago, offering a unique perspective on the bridge's interior and the small, barred windows.
  • See it from the outside: If you can't secure a Secret Itinerary Tour ticket, you can still admire the Bridge of Sighs from outside. Popular viewing points include:
    Ponte della Paglia: This bridge offers a classic view of the Bridge of Sighs with a gondola gliding underneath for a quintessential Venetian image.
    Ponte della Canonica: This bridge provides a side view of the bridge, showcasing its architectural details.
  • Capturing the moment: Since the bridge is enclosed, photography can be tricky inside. Opt for a flash to brighten the interior, and focus on the architectural details like the archway and windows. From the outside, its an easy, and actually more recognisable, frame to capture. 
  • Avoiding the crowds: To get the best shots (and avoid crowds), consider a tour during the off-season or shoulder seasons. Early mornings or evenings might offer better lighting conditions as well.

Frequently asked questions about Bridge of Sighs

What is the significance of the Bridge of Sighs in Venice's history?

Since the Bridge of Sighs was built to connect the Doge's Palace to the New Prisons, serving as a passageway for prisoners it played a crucial role in the functioning of the Venetian justice system and is now a symbol of the city's rich history and architecture.

Are there any guided tours that include a visit to the Bridge of Sighs?

Indeed! There are exclusive guided tours like the "Secret Itinerary" tour, which lets visitors explore areas of the palace and prison not typically accessible to the public, including the Bridge of Sighs. Led by knowledgeable guides, the tour provides insights into the history, architecture, and legends surrounding the bridge, offering a unique and immersive experience for visitors.

Can visitors access the interior of the Bridge of Sighs?

Public access to the Bridge of Sighs' interior is limited. You can only walk through it as part of the Doge's Palace Secret Itinerary Tour, a separate ticketed experience with limited availability.

Is the Bridge of Sighs illuminated at night?

The Bridge of Sighs itself isn't directly illuminated at night. However, the surrounding area of the Doge's Palace is often lit up, casting an enchanting glow on the bridge. You might be able to capture a picturesque image with the bridge bathed in the soft light of nearby buildings.

What is the best way to reach the Bridge of Sighs from other parts of Venice?

While you can't enter the bridge itself without a special tour, getting to the Doge's Palace complex, where the bridge is located, is easy. Most visitors rely on vaporetto (water buses). Depending on your starting point, lines 1, 2, 5.1, or 4.1 will get you close to the San Zaccaria stop, a short walk from the palace.

How has the bridge's perception changed over time?

Initially, the bridge served a practical function within the Venetian justice system. Over time, the "Bridge of Sighs" name emerged, likely linked to a romantic legend about prisoners sighing. Today, the bridge is a popular tourist attraction, symbolizing both Venetian history and a touch of melancholy.

What was the daily life of prisoners like after crossing the bridge?

Conditions in the prison (Prigioni Nuove) varied depending on the severity of the crime. Some prisoners faced harsh conditions, while others might have had more privileges. However, crossing the Bridge of Sighs undoubtedly marked a turning point, signifying the start of their confinement.

Who were some of the most popular prisoners in Doge's Palace prisons?

The Doge's Palace housed a fascinating mix of prisoners. Casanova, the infamous escapee, rubbed shoulders with Marco Polo (possibly) and political prisoners like Pellico. Even a Doge, Marino Faliero, met his demise there. Garibaldi, a future Italian unifier, also spent a brief stint within its walls.