Venice Awaits New Bridge over Grand Canal

Construction has begun in Venice of a fourth bridge to span the city's Grand Canal. Designed by a Spanish architect, it will be the first modern piece of architecture to be erected in Venice in many decades.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Venice has stood still for centuries. Now, the Lagoon City's famed Grand Canal is about to get its first new footbridge in many decades.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports in how Venetians are reacting to the addition of the 21st-century landmark in the jewel of Renaissance architecture.

(Soundbite of church bells)

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: As church bells chimed at midnight one night in late July, hundreds of Venetians lined up along the banks of the Grand Canal. The city's main waterway had been closed to all traffic. And there was a mood of intense expectation. Suddenly, the sound of a deep engine could be heard entering from the lagoon.

(Soundbite of engine running)

POGGIOLI: Susana(ph), a custom-built barge more than 150 feet long and 50 feet wide, was carrying 200 tons of steel. The two buttresses of what would be Venice's new footbridge, a sweeping glass and steel construction designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

Among the many onlookers, one young Venetian woman was thrilled. Monica Borgato(ph) said the Calatrava Bridge is a stimulus for the future of the city.

Ms. MONICA BORGATO (Resident, Venice): (Through translator) This city has been immobile for too long. If Venice is relegated to become a museum, it will be a place only for tourists, and therefore it will die.

POGGIOLI: The deck of the arched steel structure, more than 300 feet long, will be covered with the traditional stone of Venice, alternating with sections of tempered glass. The bridge will expand and retract according to seasonal changes. And at night, the transparent deck will be lit from below, enhancing the bridge's theatrical effect.

(Soundbite of people talking)

POGGIOLI: Among Venetians, the Calatrava Bridge has been dogged by controversies, from its impact on the city's landscape to cost overruns. The final tab now stands at $13.6 million. One disgruntled Venetian is Tony Angelin(ph).

Mr. TONI ANGELIN (Resident, Venice): (Through translator) I'd like to know who is going to pay for all these - for all the consultants' 10 years of delay. It took just 10 years to build the Rialto in 1596. Nobody needs this bridge.

POGGIOLI: Calatrava responds to that kind of criticism by saying that, in Venice, bridges do more than join different parts of the city. They are landmarks, he says, meeting points, points of definition within an urban fabric that is utterly unique.

His bridge will be one of the first things tourists will see on arrival in Venice. It will link the railway station with the bus terminal and car parks on the other side of the Grand Canal. It's that undefined section where the ugly outside world of cars and exhaust fumes dissolves into the magical floating world of Venice.

Even so, architect Marino Forlin(ph), a Venetian by birth, is stunned that this is finally happening at all.

Mr. MARINO FORLIN (Architect, Venice): Venice resists modernity.

POGGIOLI: He says that in the past 60 years, every effort at building something new has failed.

Mr. FORLIN: (Italian spoken), nothing. Louis Kahn with another (unintelligible), nothing. So it is a sign of a new renaissance in Venice.

POGGIOLI: The Calatrava Bridge, which still doesn't have an official name, is expected to be inaugurated by the end of the year.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.