‘Exemplary’ Rialto Bridge restoration project finishes on time

Work on La Serenissima's oldest bridge is done, but official unveiling will take place during the Venice Biennale


The restoration of the oldest bridge across Venice’s Grand Canal, the 16th-century stone arch Ponte di Rialto, was completed at the end of December—although local vandals have already defaced the structure with graffiti. The 18-month project, which began in May 2015, has proceeded in sections so the bridge, a popular tourist attraction, could stay open throughout the work. A trio of construction companies won the €3.4m contract from the Venice city council, while the local businessman Renzo Rossi, the founder of the fashion brand Diesel, donated €5m through his holding company OTB (Only the Brave).

The restoration has systemically treated all of the bridge’s structural elements for the first time in more than 400 years. A team of 25 conservators dismantled the sandstone paving on the central steps and the two exterior ramps for cleaning, while workers relaid the telephone, gas and electric cables powering the bridge’s 24 shops. They strengthened the walls of the arcades and added a further layer of waterproof insulation, as well as new internal sheets to the 700 sq. m of lead sheets covering the roofs.

To protect the northern and southern balustrades from the lagoon’s brackish waters, as well as the thousands of tourists who walk across it each year, the banisters were reinforced using carbon-fibre bandages and duplex stainless steel brackets that resist corrosion. The 364 columns, which presented fractures on their capitals and bases, were also reset in molten lead and some of the cornerstones were completely replaced.

Cleaning the graffiti, pollution and biological patina from the Istrian stone structure revealed the abrasive effects of a previous restoration in 1975. As a preliminary survey showed, there were no emergencies requiring special attention. The local newspaper La Nuova has already hailed the project as “exemplary” for reusing 99% of the bridge’s existing materials and keeping to schedule. But the official inauguration of the refreshed structure will have to wait until May as the city council has timed the event to coincide with the opening of the Venice Biennale.