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  • Writer's pictureLucy Walker

A Brief History of the Ponte degli Scalzi in Venice

What is the Ponte degli Scalzi?

The Ponte degli Scalzi is a stone footbridge over The Grand Canal in Venice that was built in the 1930s and named after a nearby church.

Ponte degli Scalzi

Ponte degli Scalzi History

The Ponte degli Scalzi (or ‘bridge of the barefoot’) is named after Santa Maria di Nazareth, the Carmelite church you see on the north side of the crossing. The church is known colloquially as Chiesa degli Scalzi because the Carmelites led austere and contemplative lives, wearing simple sandals rather than shoes to demonstrate their poverty.

The current bridge, with its elegant arched design, looks as if it’s stood here for centuries. Even its name has a medieval ring to it, but in fact the Scalzi bridge dates from the 1930s. Its predecessor, an iron structure built in the mid-19th century, was only the third supposedly permanent crossing ever built over the Grand Canal and was intended to last a lot longer than its actual 80-year lifespan.

This original bridge was designed by Alfred Neville, an English engineer hired by the Venetian authorities to improve access to the new Santa Lucia railway station. Neville’s modern truss bridge was made of cast iron, fabricated in England. The bridge failed for a number of reasons. First, the limited clearance it provided prevented many commercial craft from accessing the Grand Canal. Another problem was that its industrial Victorian aesthetic didn’t harmonise with the surrounding architecture, and this made it unpopular with locals. Finally, the bridge was not fit for purpose; the cast iron rapidly deteriorated and the structure became unsafe.

The Venetian authorities were anxious to build a sturdy and pleasing new river crossing, one that would stand the test of time. One proposed solution was to dig a tunnel under the canal. Instead, they turned to Eugenio Miozzi, chief engineer of the Technical Office of the Municipality of Venice. Miozzi’s project epitomised fascist efficiency; he was granted a large budget from Mussolini’s government that was used to complete work on the bridge in just over two years. The Scalzi bridge’s design combines old and new techniques. It’s made purely from Istrian stone, the dense and durable local material used in 90% of Venice’s stone buildings.

Miozzi was proud of his simple, intelligent design. He boasted that the Ponte degli Scalzi, like the stone bridges of the past, ‘has no armour, neither in reinforced concrete, nor in iron, nor in bronze’.

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