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Casanova and the Bridge of Sighs

Venice, Italy

The Lover, the Bridge and the Doge

The great lover, Giacomo Girolamo Casanova, once crossed the Bridge of Sighs on his way to prison in a dingy, dark, small cell. Known as the Leads, these dreaded cells were in the attic of the Doge’s Palace in Venice. Casanova was only 30 and had already lived a life of romance and intrigue.

Doge's Palace
Doge’s Palace, Venice

The Doge, aka Duke, was the highest official of the Republic of Venice for more than 1,000 years (from the 8th to the 18th century), symbol of the sovereignty of the Venetian state.

            He was elected by the people and held office for a lifetime.

Casanova
Giacomo Girolamo Casanova

Condemned in 1755

The Venetian Inquisition court condemned Casanova to the Doge’s prison for an undisclosed term in 1755.

Like many prisoners before him, the walk to his dreaded cell took him across the Bridge of Sighs.

Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs

Escape

For 15 months he languished in prison until…

…he and a disgraced monk made a daring break through the roof.

These two are the only inmates ever to escape this prison.

See the cell on the Secret Tour

Today, the palace’s dismal interior chambers can be visited on the Secret Tour (Itinerari Segreti).

Visitors are led through a hidden wall panel, passing through the Inquisition trial and torture rooms before reaching the cells that Casanova once shared with “rats as big as rabbits.”

Casanova guilty?

In a society of indulgent excesses, spies accused Casanova of being a cardsharp, con man, Freemason, astrologer, cabbalist (worshipper of any secret/occult doctrine/science) and a blasphemer.

Snitch notes were placed in the open mouth
During the Venetian Inquisition, one could anonymously place a ‘snitch’ note in the open mouth of this face conveniently placed on the wall along a well travelled corridor in the Doge’s castle.

Perhaps these alleged crimes were in retaliation for his attentions to one of the Inquisitor’s mistresses?

The Truth behind this famous Bridge

So, the sighs to which the bridge refers are not of love but of despair and hopelessness.

The Bridge of Sighs was often the last bridge many prisoners would ever cross.

View from inside the Bridge of Sighs
View from inside the Bridge of Sighs looking out, a sight Casanova and other prisoners must have seen

Bridge construction

The structure is an enclosed limestone bridge in the baroque style. Located next to the Doge’s Palace in Venice.

Commissioned

The Doge Marino Grimani commissioned the bridge’s construction. His family coat-of-arms is visible in the centre of the facade.

More bridges in Venice

Exact number of bridges is 417 over 150 waterways! But who’s counting?

And yes, among the many, there is another famous bridge in Venice.

One of many bridges
One of many bridges in Venice
Another Venetian bridge

Famous Rialto Bridge

The first bridge to be built in Venice was the “Rialto” Bridge. The name originates from “Rivo Alto” or ‘high bank’.

            Today the Rialto Bridge and the surrounding shopping area are the commercial heart of Venice, home to the famous Rialto Fish Market.

            Only more than over 400 more bridges to discover!

Rialto Bridge
Rialto Bridge

When to travel

We visited Venice in early November, perfect weather to explore. And there were fewer tourists.

Avoid high season if possible. The heat can be oppressive, insects flourish, and foul odours easily hover above the canals.

Favoured Venetian author

Venice comes alive with books by Donna Leon.

 She writes the highly acclaimed, internationally bestselling Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series that take place in this magical city.

Winner of several book awards, she lived in Venice for many years.

Her impression of the City of Canals: ‘And off in the far distance, the gold on the wings of the angel atop the bell tower of San Marco flashed in the sun, bathing the entire city in its glistening benediction.’

Golden angel Gabriel weather vane of top of the 16th century St. Mark's Campanile
Golden angel Gabriel weather vane on top of the 16th century St. Mark’s tower in Venice, Italy

Live cam Piazza San Marco

Tower of San Marco
St Mark’s (San Marco) Tower,

COVID update

Suggested time by authorities for a visit to Venice: latter half of 2021. Click here for Covid updates.

Sights of Venice

Travelled : November, 2010

Read another of our blogs from Italy

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