It’s Tuesday so it’s The History Of Retail In 100 Objects post – This weeks object is The Rialto Bridge
Recognised worldwide as an architectural icon , the Rialto Bridge in Venice is the oldest of four structures spanning the ancient city’s Grand Canal. Construction of the bridge was necessitated by the popularity of the Rialto Market on the canal’s eastern bank. Venice flourished as a centre of trade throughout the 13th and 14th centuries and its dominance of the maritime industry and trade made it one of Europe’s most prosperous cities.
The Rialto Bridge was at the centre of it all and for centuries served as the only dry land connection across the Grand Canal. As such, the bridge helped facilitate commerce in one of the world’s most vibrant trading hubs. An early version of the bridge established in 1181 was made of floating pontoons. However, the establishment of the Rialto Market and its growing popularity prompted construction of a higher capacity wooden structure. The original wooden bridge was built with inclined ramps on either side and a centre section which could move to accommodate the passage of larger vessels on the canal. Although an improvement from earlier versions, the wood structure required frequent maintenance, occasionally caught fire and collapsed on several occasions. To remedy the situation, a stone structure was considered and in 1551 proposals were requested from architects. A design for a stone structure similar to the wooden bridge to be replace was accepted from Antonio da Ponte. The design was regarded as bold, if not foolhardy, and sceptics feared the centre span would collapse due to the weight of the stone. Construction proceeded and the bridge was completed in 1591. The concerns of sceptics proved unfounded as the Rialto Bridge has withstood the test of time and more than four centuries after its completion remains serviceable.
Contribution to Retail History
The Rialto Bridge in all its various forms contributed to the success of the Rialto Market and the establishment of Venice as a hub of global commerce. The bridge highlighted the important role infrastructure plays in facilitating commerce and provided crucial ingress and egress to the city’s vibrant market. The establishment of new sea routes diminished Venice’s role on the world stage, but the enduring image of the Rialto Bridge serves as a reminder of the city’s bygone greatness.
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