The Bridge of Sighs (Ponte de Sospiri), is in Venice, Italy, and connects the inquisitor’s room in the east side of the Doge’s palace with the state’s prison or prigioni over the Rio de Palazzo.
Work on the Doge’s palace (residence of the Duke) or Palazzo Ducale was begun in the 14th century and got its present shape only by the 16th century. The palace was not only the Doge’s residence and thus contained the inquisitor’s (judge) office, it also housed many other institutions like lawyers offices, the Chancellery, Naval Offices, etc.
The Bridge of Sighs across the Rio di Palazzo is one of over 400 bridges across the 100 or so canals that connect the city of Venice. It was built by Antonio Contino in 1600.
The bridge became the path by which the prisoners were transported from the prison to the inquisitor’s office. Its name stems from the popular belief of sadness and the sighs of condemned prisoners as they were led through it to the executioner.
However, it was only in the 19th century that it came to be called the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ after Lord Byron’s famous reference in his poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage “I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs, a palace and prison on each hand”.
In reality, the days of inquisitions and torture were over by the time the bridge was built and only small time crooks were kept in the prison cells.
The prison building is older than the Doge’s palace and was at one time used during the inquisition by the Church during the Middle Ages (when people were suspected of being witches or non believers and tortured).