Fist-Fights on Venetian Bridges

Ponte del Chiodo, Venice

The Ponte Chiodo, which is situated in the district of Cannaregio, is the only bridge left in Venice not to have parapets. There was a time when almost all of the bridges in the city would have been like this.

When I stand on the bridge I invariably think of the lotte dei pugni (wars of the fists), ritualised battles between the inhabitants of rival neighbourhoods, which once took place on bridges such as this.

In terms of factions, there were the Rialtini and the Cannaruoli, the Bariotti and the Gnatti, but the largest and most famous were the Nicolotti and the Castellani. The Castellani, as their names suggests, came from Castello as well as San Marco and Cannaregio, and were mainly workers at the Arsenal, while the Nicolotti were predominantly fishermen, who were based on the opposite side of the Grand Canal.

Members from each gang would plant themselves on either end of a bridge and battle for its possession by attempting to throw their opponents into the canal. These glorified fist-fights were extremely popular and attracted thousands of spectators, but at the beginning of the 18th century one battle got out of hand when fists were replaced by knives. In 1705 the lotte dei pugni were finally banned by the state.

In memory of these battles, there are four marble 'footprints' embedded into the Ponte dei Pugni, which is situated in the sestiere of Dorsoduro. 

Guerre dei Pugni, Ponte dei Pugni, Venice

Marble footprints, Ponte dei Pugni, Venice