Once the only bridge across the Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge marks the spot of the island’s first settlement, called Rivus Altus (high bank). Built in 1588, some 150 years after the collapse of a previous wooden bridge, this stone arch supports two busy streets and a double set of shops. Along with serving as a busy crossing point midway along the canal, it is a favorite vantage point for tourists taking – or posing for – photos, and for watching the assortment of boats always passing under it. The church of San Bartolomeo, close to the San Marco end of the bridge, was the church of the German merchants who lived and worked in the Fondaco dei Tedeschi (German Commodity Exchange) bordering the canal here. It has an excellent altarpiece, The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew, by Palma the Younger.
On the other side of Rialto Bridge is the busy food market, where Venetians and chefs shop for fresh produce and seafood. In the narrow streets of San Polo, beyond the market, are artisans’ shops and mask-making studios, one of the best places for shopping in Venice. You’ll also find places to eat that are not so filled with tourists as those nearer San Marco.