This handsome covered stone bridge, which replaced an earlier wooden structure which can be seen in one of Carpaccio’s paintings in the Accademia, was built in 1588 to the designs of the appropriately-named Andrea Da Ponte. Previous designs had been supplied by much more famous architects such as Palladio and even Michelangelo , but it was da Ponte who solved the difficult problems of supporting the weight of the bridge. When completed it was described by the Elizabethan traveller Fynes Moryson as as “reputed the eighth miracle of the world”. The area round the Rialto where, according to Shakespeare, in The Merchant of Venice, “the merchants most do congregate” was an important commercial centre boasting a lively fruit market where revellers came to refresh themselves, according to Casanova, after long nights in the service of Bacchus and Venus. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries splendid shops lined the street known as the Merceria which runs between Rialto and the Piazza San Marco. The Rialto was also an area notorious for rather shady characters, according to the Elizabethan writer Thomas Coryat, who warned:
“the gondoliers beneath the Rialto Bridge are the most vicious and licentious varlets about all the city. The stranger stepping into one of their gondolas who was not firm in stating his destination might be carried off where his plumes shall be well pulled before he cometh forth again”.
Casanova describes a scene in the early morning near the Rialto Bridge: