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Ponte dei Pugni

The Bridge of Fists

Heintz Wettstreit, Ponte dei Pugni (1673)

Spanning the Rio San Barnaba (near the Campo San Barnaba, famous for the often argumentative Barnabotti) the Ponte dei Pugni (‘bridge of fists’), is where, before the days of bridge parapets, the rival Nicolotti and Castellani would meet in the middle to punch it out, the losers tumbling into the canal, often wounded; some even drowned.

The numbers of combattants varied—sometimes up to a thousand would gather, while spectators jammed into every available window, gondola or rooftop. Originally sharp sticks were used instead of fists; in 1574, King Henri of France was treated to a battle of 600 stick fighters, and was shocked by the violence, declaring: 'This is too small to be war, but too cruel to be a game!'

There are several bridges in Venice named 'Ponte dei Pugni', but this is the only one with marble footprints in the pavement marking the places where the contestants stood.

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Rio San Barnaba

vaporetto Ca’ Rezzonico.

Text © Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Images by: PD Art