Lonely Planet review for Rialto
Rivoalto (later contracted to Rialto), the highest spot in the collection of islets that formed the nucleus of the lagoon city, was one of the areas of first settlement - although the more active part was initially on the San Marco side of the bridge. The San Polo side slowly gained the ascendance and became the centre of trade and banking for the Republic. This is where dosh traded hands, voyages were bankrolled, insurance was arranged and news (or gossip) was exchanged.
The area continues to buzz with the activity of the daily produce and fish markets - why break the habit of 700 years? The Fabbriche Vecchie (Old Buildings), along the Ruga degli Orefici, were created by Scarpagnino in 1522. They were designed to accommodate markets at ground level and house offices in the upper levels. Next door is the Palazzo dei Dieci Savi (Palace of the Ten Wise Men). The Dieci Savi administered taxes (the building now houses the Magistrato alle Acque, or Water Administration). The Fabbriche Nuove (New Buildings), running along the Grand Canal, went up in 1555 to designs by Sansovino and became home to magistrates' courts. Other magistrates, the 'chamberlains', were housed in a separate Renaissance edifice, the curious, five-sided Palazzo dei Camerlenghi, designed by Guglielmo dei Grigi. At ground level were prisons for common offenders.
The Pescaria (Fish Market), which extends into Campo delle Beccarie, was rebuilt in neo-Gothic style in 1907. They have been selling fresh fish here since 1300. While in Campo delle Beccarie, spare a thought for the Querini family. One wing of their house still looks onto the square, but the rest was demolished in 1310 in reprisal for having backed the revolt against Doge Pietro Gradenigo.
From the Rialto docks, crusader fleets set sail. While men and provisions were gathered, knights and other notables stayed in hostels just behind the Fabbriche Nuove. Others camped out on Giudecca or around the Chiesa di San Nicolò on the Lido. They would hear their last Mass on land for some time in the Chiesa di San Giacomo di Rialto. Virtually in the middle of the market, off the Ruga degli Orefici, it was supposedly founded on 25 March 421, the same day as the city.
Across the square from the church is a statue of a man bent beneath the weight of a staircase. Sculpted in 1541, the staircase allowed officials of the Republic to climb onto the adjacent trunk of an ancient column to proclaim official decrees. Known to Venetians as Il Gobbo (The Hunchback), the statue also represented the finishing line for criminals sentenced to be paraded and flogged through the streets from Piazza San Marco. On reaching Il Gobbo they would kiss the statue, thus marking the end of their torment. The Church disapproved, not of the punishment, and eventually ordained that the prisoners should kiss a small cross, etched for the purpose into a pillar to the left of Il Gobbo.