Tourist Guide Venice

Bridge of Sighs and ‘The Leads’

Bridge of Sighs

Whichever era and whichever country one is in – going to prison is not a desirable thing. For those condemned in Venice during the 18th Century however, it was particularly bad; above all if they were sentenced as a political prisoner. After the court hearing, captives were taken straight into the prison. The two buildings of the palace are joined together by a world renowned bridge – the ‘Ponte dei Sospiri’ or ‘Bridge of Sighs’. It would surely have been lamenting cries that gave the bridge its name. The prison at the other end was notorious and many prisoners did not leave it alive.

When many travellers visit this prison today then they above all wish to see the lead chambers. This is for two reasons. On the one hand the lead chambers were the most brutal and intolerable prison cells that one could imagine. They were deemed completely escape-proof until the most famous inmate that ever lived there, proved the Doges wrong and thus gave the main reason for the crowds of tourists that flock here. In a spectacular escape, Giacomo Casanova was able to regain his freedom. He was thereafter never to see Venice again however he never forgot the conditions of his incarceration. In 1755 Giacomo Casanova was convicted for blasphemy, free masonry, magic and no surprises here- for fornication. He was taken to a prison cell directly underneath the lead roof of Doge’s Palace. The roof gave the cells their name. The cells were tiny, but even smaller were the vents that aerated the cells. It became unbearably hot in them and many prisoners died. Giacomo Casanova took a long time before he processed his experience in the prison and his spectacular escape. He was imprisoned for an entire year before he could escape and begin his unsettled (love)-life across Europe’s ruling houses and beds. Many years later in his book ‘My Escape from the Leads’ he recorded his memories from that time.

Anyone who visits the prison wing of Doge’s Palace should also take a look at the so called ‘Pozzi’. These are 19 prison cells made of Istrian stone blocks that were not as hot as the lead chambers; however had other hardships in store. Often during the ‘aqua alta’ – the legendary floods of the lagoon city, the cells stood up to the beds under water. In comparison the cells of the new prison, that was completed in 1610 and can also be viewed, appear almost humane.

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