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  • Writer's pictureLucy Walker

A Brief History of the Ponte dell’Accademia in Venice

What is the Ponte dell’Accademia?

The Ponte dell’Accademia is a wooden footbridge over the Grand Canal in Venice that was built in the mid-20th century by Venetian engineer Eugenio Miozzi.

Ponte dell’Accademia

Ponte dell’Accademia History

In 1488, a Venetian governor named Luca Trum suggested building a bridge over this stretch of the Grand Canal. At the time, Venice was at the height of its power, the headquarters of an empire that controlled significant trading routes across the Mediterranean. Valuable commodities such as silk, spices and grains were stored and sold throughout the city.

In 1444, the wooden Rialto Bridge, the only permanent pedestrian crossing over the Grand Canal at the time, had collapsed under the weight of a large crowd. Trum believed that Venice needed safe and reliable stone crossings for pedestrians. However, his fellow council members laughed at his proposal. We don’t know why his idea was so roundly ridiculed, but we do know that Venetians, both rich and poor, often navigated their watery city by boat. Many of the palaces that you can see from the Ponte dell'Accademia would have had facilities on the ground floor for storing boating equipment. Perhaps the council members, who were all easily rich enough to own their own craft and to keep boatmen in their households, thought the idea a waste of money since it was of no benefit to them.

Four centuries later, a pedestrian crossing was finally greenlit by the Venetian authorities. It was made of cast iron rather than stone, and designed by an English engineer called Alfred Neville. The Ponte dell'Accademia was named after the Accademia di Belle Arti, the fine arts school that used to occupy the nearby Santa Maria della Carità complex. Like Neville’s other cast-iron bridge on the Grand Canal, the Ponte degli Scalzi, this one was widely criticised for its appearance, which was out of step with the surrounding architecture.

In the 1930s, the Venetian engineer Eugenio Miozzi was once again given the task of replacing an iron bridge designed by Neville. The original plan was to build a stone crossing, just as he did with the Ponte degli Scalzi. In the meantime, Miozzi built a temporary wooden structure. The plan for the new crossing was submitted, accepted and realised in just 37 days.

Miozzi’s stone bridge was never built, and by 1985 his not-so-temporary wooden structure had become a much-loved local feature. Nevertheless, it was unstable, so a new bridge design became the subject of the 1985 Venice Biennale (the city’s famed biennial art exhibition). In the end, however, Miozzi’s rotting Mussolini-era bridge was replaced by a new wooden replica of the 1932 structure.

To ensure its longevity, steel reinforcements were included. Apart from its vulnerability to fire, timber adapts well to the canal’s varied climate and salt water. Hopefully the replacement will still be standing in 50 years’ time.

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