The Rialto Bridge is the oldest of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal, explains Becca Blond at AFAR, “and without question it's one of the most iconic sights in Venice.” There has been a bridge at this site since the 12th century connecting the districts of San Marco and San Polo, she writes, and until the Accademia Bridge was built in 1854, the Ponte di Rialto was the only way to cross the canal on foot. “Early versions of the bridge were made of wood and eventually succumbed to fire or collapse, until its current incarnation was constructed of stone by Antonio da Ponte in 1591.”
Unlike most tourist attractions, it’s actually used by locals, notes Italy Heaven, because it is such an important crossing place on the Grand Canal. “Venetians stride over the bridge, cutting through the milling tourists and diving into the short-cuts which run behind the rows of souvenir stalls.” But the shops on the Rialto “aren't terribly exciting” -- they’re mostly jewellers and souvenir shops -- but if you climb the exterior sets of steps at the back of the shops “you can really admire the setting, with fine views over the Grand Canal, busy with gondolas and ferries.”
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