“Look that’s where we were standing yesterday!” I exclaimed
pointing through the stone grills of the windows while crossing inside the
covered Bridge of Sighs in Venice. It was a beautiful view of Venice through the
peep-holes between the stone bars of the little windows. One could see dozens of
tourists outside taking pictures of this famous white limestone bridge. Many
were viewing it while standing on the Ponte della Paglia (another bridge) just
like we had done the previous day. What a fine example of bridge architecture
and what an amazing difference of perspective from inside and outside, I
thought to myself.
The Bridge of Sighs is a beautiful covered bridge arching high
above the canal, connecting the Doge’s Palace to the Prison. It was built around
the year 1600 to connect the interrogation rooms in the Palace to the new
prison that had been built across the river. The most senior elected officials
of Venice resided in the Palace. The Palace has preserved the various chambers
and the Doge’s apartments including the great works of art on the ceilings and
The old prison cells in the ground floor of the Palace were
found inadequate, so a new prison was built that had more light and was better
ventilated. The convicts who were sentenced would cross the bridge to the new
prison. It is believed that the bridge got its name as prisoners would “sigh” as
they got one last glimpse of beautiful Venice through the windows of the
Venice is perhaps the most beautiful and the most romantic city
in Europe. A group of 118 islands separated by canals and linked by bridges, it
is built miraculously on a marshy lagoon. With a great history of Renaissance
art and world leading commerce, Venice has been sinking 4 inches every century.
It is listed as a World Heritage site.
The British poet Lord Byron who lived in Italy for 7 years, once
wrote: "I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs, a palace and prison on each
hand". As per legend - if a couple kisses under this bridge on a gondola at
sunset, as the bells of St Mark’s Campanile toll, they would be granted eternal
Is the bridge named after the sigh-ing of the prisoners or the
sigh-ing of the lovers?!
It is hard to tell which version is the real reason for the
naming of the bridge. Perhaps both versions are accurate and it really depends
on your position with respect to the bridge. One could be inside the enclosed
bridge sighing while looking at beautiful Venice through the stone bars, or one
could be outside on the river floating under the bridge on a gondola sighing in
a romantic mood.
Many movies have been shot in Venice over the years. In the 1979
romantic comedy “A Little Romance” starring Laurence Olivier, based on the novel
E=mc2 Mon Amour, a French boy and an American girl journey to Venice, where they
hope to seek eternal love under the Bridge of Sighs. Laurence Olivier, one of
the greatest English actors, was 72 at the time of the movie and he played the
kind but seasoned pick pocketeer who shares the legend of the Bridge of Sighs
with the unsuspecting young boy and girl. Incidentally, Laurence Olivier acted
in another Venice based movie when he played Shylock in the 1973 drama “The
Merchant of Venice” based on William Shakespeare’s famous
The super hit 1964 Bollywood movie “Sangam”, starring Raj Kapoor
and Vyjayanthimala, was shot in Venice. The duo are shown spending a perfect
honeymoon together, playing with the pigeons on St Mark’s square in one scene,
floating on the grand canal past the Doge’s palace on a gondola, in another
scene. It was Raj Kapoor’s first color film, and this movie started the
Bollywood trend of shooting song sequences in scenic foreign places. Raj Kapoor
attracted a world-wide audience. “Desperado Square”, a 1992 movie from Israel
pays tribute to Raj Kapoor’s movie “Sangam” as the characters reminisce “the
Coming back to the Bridge of Sighs, it is possible that the
prisoner, who sighed while crossing the bridge, saw through the windows his own
prior youthful self, basking in the bright freedom outside.
It is quite possible that the prisoner worried about his future,
sighing at the view and envying the people outside who seemed to be enjoying the
world at that moment. The people outside, perhaps not knowing that they were
being watched, may have worried that the perfect fleeting moment was passing too
soon, sighing as they looked up and wondered at the timelessness of the bridge.
It is hard to tell who is not a prisoner.
But the bridge remains the same: beautiful, distant, mysterious.