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Venice Awaits New Bridge over Grand Canal

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Venice Awaits New Bridge over Grand Canal


Venice Awaits New Bridge over Grand Canal

Venice Awaits New Bridge over Grand Canal

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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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.


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.

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