The Rialto Bridge is one of the most famous bridges in Venice and one of Venice's top attractions. The first of only four bridges to span the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge is lined with shops and is a gateway to the Rialto Market.
Prior to the building of the Rialto Bridge, in the late 16th century, a series of bridges occupied this, the narrowest point across the Grand Canal. Because this bridge was the only place to cross the Grand Canal on foot, it was imperative to construct a bridge that would hold up to heavy use and would also allow boats to pass underneath.
Beginning in 1524, artists and architects, including Sansovino, Palladio, and Michelangelo, began submitting blueprints for the new bridge. But no plan was chosen until 1588, when municipal architect Antonio da Ponte was awarded the commission. Interestingly, da Ponte was the uncle of Antonio Contino, architect of Venice's other unmistakable bridge – The Bridge of Sighs.
The Rialto Bridge is an elegant, arched stone bridge lined with arcades on each side. The central archway at its pinnacle, accessed via the wide stairs that rise from either side of the bridge, serves as a lookout perch. Under the arcades are numerous shops, many of which cater to the tourists who flock here to see this famous bridge and its views of the gondola-filled waterway of the Grand Canal.