Bridge(s) of Sighs: A History

I stood in Venice, at the Bridge of Sighs

A palace and a prison on each hand:

I saw from out the wave her structures rise

As from the stroke of the enchanter’s wand

-Lord Byron

Venice - photo credit: L. Flewelling

Venice – photo credit: L. Flewelling

PONTE DEI SOSPIRI, VENICE:

Connecting the interrogation room at the Doge’s Palace to the Prigioni Nuove (New Prison), the Bridge of Sighs was designed by Antonio Contino and completed in 1602.  The baroque-style, limestone structure is the only covered bridge in Venice.  The bridge is said to be the last place from which convicts could draw a breath of fresh air before their imprisonment, and gained its romantic associations in the nineteenth century.

Cambridge - photo credit: L. Flewelling

Cambridge – photo credit: L. Flewelling

NEW BRIDGE, ST. JOHN’S COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE:

Cambridge - photo credit: L. Flewelling

Cambridge – photo credit: L. Flewelling

Spanning the Cam, the Bridge of Sighs at Cambridge connects the New Court to the Third Court at St. John’s College.  St. John’s was founded in 1511, and by the early nineteenth century looked to expand its area for student residences.  Thomas Rickman and Henry Hutchinson designed the New Court as the first major building by any college in Cambridge to be placed across the river, with construction completed in 1831.  That same year, Hutchinson’s New Bridge joined the old with the new sections of the college.  The only real resemblance to the Venetian Bridge of Sighs is that both bridges are covered – but this seems to have been enough of a resemblance to have the name adopted for the Cambridge structure.

Oxford - photo credit: L. Flewelling

Oxford – photo credit: L. Flewelling

HERTFORD BRIDGE, HERTFORD COLLEGE, OXFORD:

Hertford College, Oxford, traces its roots to the 1280s.  The college was refounded in 1874, and its site was expanded to include a new Lodge and Hall, the New Quad, Chapel, and several other buildings, all designed by Thomas Graham Jackson.  Jackson also designed the Hertford Bridge, connecting two parts of the college spanning New College Lane.  Oxford’s Bridge of Sighs was completed in 1913 – but it was never intended to be a replica of the Venetian bridge.  Like Cambridge’s version, it has little in common with its namesake other than being covered and, of course, the beauty of the site.

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One thought on “Bridge(s) of Sighs: A History

  1. Pingback: Postcard from St. John’s College, Cambridge | Isles Abroad

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