Venice Stories and Tips

The Merchants of Venice: The Rialto Bridge and Pescheria (fish market)

The Rialto Bridge from the Grande Canale Photo, Venice, Italy

Shylock:

"In the Rialto you have rated me about my moneys and my usances. Still I have borne it with a patient shrug; For sufferance is the badge of our tribe: You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, and spit upon my jewish gaberdine.

The Merchant of Venice, Act 1, Scene 3

If Will Shakespeare ventured onto the Rialto Bridge today he would be trampled to death by Polish coach parties. The marble Bridge is smothered in tourists so that you have to fight your way to its parapet for views up and down the Grande Canale. Every visitor to Venice makes his way between the Piazza and the Rialto and the narrow streets around here are a continual street of baffled tourists tempted by the Murano glassware shops and canalside restaurants. You will probably venture here and the real find is across on the San Polo side with its fabulous market where you can leave the tourist kitsch aside and discover where the real Venice shops.

The approaches to the Rialto are probably its best features. It is a stop along the Grande Canale for vaporetto''s #1 and #52 and the view through the forest of mooring posts as you approach is amazing (see photo). On foot you just follow the hordes, yellow signs direct you to it from the Piazza and Lista de Spagna. The Lista di Spagna route has the advantage of travelling the Strada Nuova which is really the High Street of Venice. The locals stop here for a pachito, post office, bank or other the requirements of life. Before the Rialto is the Campo St Bartholemew and south from here is the famous Merceries - probably the most tourist clogged route in the world. To the west is the Rialto - you can''t miss it - just follow your nose past all the plastic gondolas, carnevale masks, postcard vendors and oodles of Murano glassware shops.

I''m probably being unfair. The Rialto has always been heaving with people. In Shakespeare''s time it was famous as a central commodity exchange and was known as ''the bazaar of Europe''. Gold, silver, Italian fabrics, precious stones, spices and dyes from the orient could all be bought here. People had to shove their way past on the bridge just as they have to do today. And once you have climbed the ascent to the middle of the bridge the views up and down the Grande Canale are fantastic. There are about twenty shops actually on the bridge all catering to the tourist trade. And when I wanted to pick up a piece of Murano glassware as a present for those at home this is where I came. The Ruby gallery on the San Polo side is superb and very reasonably priced.

But the real find on the San Polo side is the Pescheria (the fish market). This begins just below the bridge and spreads along the Grande Canale where produce boats draw up to unload. This is really worth a wander, if only to watch the old ladies amble around and squeeze the tomatoes. On show were mushrooms from the Veneto, calamares in fresh ink, catfish and crayfish from the lagoon and grapes so juicy I was tempted to buy. The place was full of bawling stallholders, picky customers and barking dogs. Thank god! A piece of real life amongst all the tourist kitsch.

The native Venetians also use the traghetto''s which cross the Grande Canale here. These are tiny gondola like vessels where people stand and a poled across the canal for 6,000 lira. The natives use them all the time and its is commonplace to see six of them standing in this small boat as it crosses the water. I didn''t try it out as I have a terrible sense of balance, and returned via the tourist rugby scrum on the bridge itself.

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