"BRIDGE OF SIGHS"

By Cynthia Morrison - Confinement Historian / Escapologist


The cold, harsh and insensitive conditions of the Human cage are not always the most dreaded. The prisoners of Venice Italy expressed disgust to the passage into inhumanity for which Lord Byron named the "Bridge of Sighs". When prisoners were led from the Palazzo Ducale (Venetian Government building.) to the cells of the Palazzo dei Prigioni, they let out a sigh as they crossed over the bridge -- seeing their last bit of daylight. The Palazzo was recently described as "a Renaissance tour-de-force combining opulence and restraint"
Today, The palazzo's "secret itinerary" guided tour takes you to the doge's private apartments, through hidden passageways to the torture chambers, where prisoners were "interrogated," and into the rooftop piombi prison, named for the building's leaded roofing. Giacomo Casanova (1725-98), Venetian-born writer and libertine also the illegitimate son of a touring actress, was imprisoned here in 1755, having offended someone in power. (He was officially charged with being a Freemason). Casanova attempted to escape twice. Casanova found an iron rod in the prison yard and fashioned it into a digging tool. For several months, he secretly worked on a tunnel that would take him out of his cell. His hopes were dashed, however, when he was suddenly forced to move to another cell. Realizing the guards would carefully watch him in his new cell, Casanova gave his iron tool, which he had managed to retain, to the prisoner in the next cell, a monk named Balbi, and begged him to dig one tunnel joining their cells and another between the monk's cell and the outside. Balbi agreed, and when he had completed the tunnels, both prisoners crawled out of Balbi's cell and managed to escape from the Leads using the iron tool to force open doors and gates in their way. He made his way out of the Palace and walked directly down the Golden Staircase and out the main entrance! The warders saw him leaving but they thought he was a politician and didn't stop him.
Casanova fled to France, where he continued his career of intrigue and scandal. They were the only prisoners ever to escape, and their guard was imprisoned for 10 years.

The interior of the bridge of sighs in Venice is divided into two narrow passages separated by a wall. From inside its grilled windows, prisoners were led to the State Inquisitor's Room on the third floor of the Palace. The bridge is completely enclosed and seems somewhat short. Many of the prisoners had to slouch to get through
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 heretics, witches or non-believers in the faith, and tortured and generally tormented.

There are a few places around the globe that sport their version of the famous bridge. Namely at Cambridge and Oxford Universities in the UK. Another happens to be located in my hometown area of Palm Beach. Addison Mizner inspired this recreation of the bridge with his fascination for Mediterranean architecture. 
Mizner was a flamboyant designer with no formal training. As a child he traveled around the world with his father, who was the US minister to Guatemala.
Mizner drew some of his inspiration from a scrapbook of postcards, photographs, drawings and sketches he kept sorted by subjects. He'd browse through the scrapbook whenever he needed an idea. He built his bridge of sighs replica adjoining his house to his working office quarters. 

At one point his Father sent him to architectural school. There Addison was expelled from the school with officers claiming that his ideas became far too unorthodox to continue any type of successful career in the chosen field. Today this behavior is referred to as "eclectic creativity". Needless to say he proved them wrong! The Mizner elements flourish in the south Florida resort of Palm Beach. But only one of his architectural masterpieces in particular embraces "Mediterranean anguish". The Bridge of Sighs at Via Mizner Worth Ave."

Copyright 2008, Cynthia Morrison - Confinement Historian 
 

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