Fist-Fights on the Bridges of Venice
Once upon a time, none of the bridges in Venice had parapets; now there is only one, Ponte Chiodo in the district of Cannaregio.
Whenever I stand on it, I invariably think of the lotte dei pugni (fist-fights), battles between the inhabitants of rival neighbourhoods, which once took place on selected bridges in the city.
In terms of rival 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 suggest, 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 faction 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.