I stood in Venice in the Bridge of Sighs,
A palace and a prison on each hand.
-- Lord Byron
In Venice there is a Bridge of Sighs. A sigh can signify many things. In this case I think of the sigh of the person who is about to find out what his fate is. Then the next sigh he makes can be one of relief or one of anguish.
At the end of the Doga's Palace a crowd of tourists have gathered to gaze at the Covered Bridge to their left. It is totally enclosed and painted black with two small windows. It is a somber looking bridge only about 50 feet long. It lays between the Doga's Palace and the Venetian City prison. What is a bridge doing connecting a palace and a prison?
A tour guide is telling the story of the "Bridge of Sighs." He explains that we are now looking at the most sinister room in all of Venice. Since the palace also acted as the court house, a prisoner would be tried in the court house, immediately given his sentence and then would walk across the bridge to the prison to have his sentence carried out.
I stood looking at one of the blackest of black places I can ever remember. I imagined that it was three hundred years ago and my best friend was walking from the court room to the prison. He, having being sentenced to death for not paying a one hundred lire debt he had amassed to buy food for his family. As, in most cases, his sentence was execution by hanging. Now he was taking the trip from the palace court to the prison. It would be the final time anyone would see him. Crossing the infamous bridge, he took those last few steps with a heavy heart as his family would imagine that they could hear his deep sighs of despair. My friend stood at the window of the bridge to see his wife and two kids standing at the adjacent bridge not one hundred meters away but for the very last time. They stood in the sunshine and he stood in the shadows. It was a terribly harsh and difficult time of existence. In effect, all four of them were sentenced to death since his wife and children had no way to survive without his income.
Over the next three centuries that this bridge was used as a link between the palace / court house and the prison, between life and death, between the individual rights of man and the imprisonment of mankind.
The survivors sighed with grief, the prisoners sighed with despair and the bridge became known as "The Bridge of Sighs . . ."
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