The bridge of Fists in the Dorsoduro districtHistorical Curiosities
The bridge of Fists in the Dorsoduro district
The Bridge of Fists, located in the Dorsoduro district, owes its name to an ancient tradition of Venice: the War of Fists.
The inhabitants of two opposing factions, the Castellani of San Pietro di Castello and the Nicoletti of San Nicolò dei Mendicoli, used to fight with their 'fists' in a very unusual battlefield... The upper part of the aforementioned bridge, at that time devoid of railings!
The two factions, rival since the 14th century, were distinguished by different trades and customs: the Castellani were dedicated to the naval industry at the Arsenale and wore red berets and scarves, the Nicoletti made a living mostly from fishing and were distinguished by their black hats and scarves.
The origins of the War of Fists are uncertain: it is thought they can be traced back to the civil wars between Eraclea and Jesolo or the killing of a bishop from Castello at the hands of somebody from the area of San Nicolò ... What is certain is that, at one point, the clashes became so frequent that they required regulations. Starting in 1292 the two rival groups could freely fight with fists only from September to Christmas!
The clashes could be of three types: a single boxing match (the Mostra), a multiple fight (the Frota) or a fight for the conquest of the bridge (Guerra Ordinata). Since there were no railings to protect the bridge, the contenders often fell into the water. With the growth of the animosity of the clashes, and consequently an increase in the numbers of the dead and wounded, in 1705 the fights were definitively outlawed.
On the four corners of the bridge the presence of some footprints marks what once used to happen here: on one side you can see where the contenders stood for their fist fights, on the other, the position of the referees who had the task of checking that the rules were being followed.
After being banned at the beginning of the 18th century, the 'fight' between the two factions was replaced by exercises of agility, balance and dexterity in the so-called 'Forze d'Ercole' and the famous Regattas.
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