In the San Polo district of Venice, there is a bridge with a truly unique name: Ponte de le Tette, the bridge of the boobs. The bridge famous for its picturesque name is located in an area that at the time of the Republic of Venice was a real red-light district, where brothels abounded and prostitutes often looked out the windows exposing their “goods”.
It was 1319 when the last descendant of the rich “Rampani” family died in Venice, whose property, having no heirs and testament, passed to the Serenissima. Part of these assets consisted precisely in some buildings in San Cassiano, which in 1421 the Venetian authorities, exasperated by the large number of prostitutes who crowded the city, turned into brothels: from Ca’ Rampani, name of the residence of the rich family, derives the use to refer to prostitutes such as “carampane”. Hence the current meaning of the term referring to old, untidy and ungraceful women.
One of these “brothel” was located right above the “Ponte de le Tette” and it seems that the custom of enticing passers-by showing their exposed breasts was a real imposition by the Venetian government on prostitutes in order to “distract with such incentive, men from sinning against nature”.
The Venetian authorities did not fail to regulate with strict laws the daily behavior of the ladies: they could leave the house, but not leave the boundaries of the work district, and at the third sound of the bell of the evening they had the obligation to return to their lodgings, punishment ten lashes. They were also forbidden from boarding customers in the sacred periods of Christmas, Lent and Easter and attending taverns. They could go to the city center only on Saturdays, wearing a striking yellow neckerchief as a sign of recognition. Every Sunday there was an absolute ban on leaving the brothels.
In the eighteenth century, thanks to new laws that wanted to increase tourism in the city, young and beautiful prostitutes were able to return undisturbed to exercise in the heart of Venice, while at Ca’ Rampani only the oldest prostitutes remained, living there relegated as in a hospice, continuing their ancient “profession” at very modest prices imposed by the “Serenissima”, with the absolute prohibition of putting one’s nose in the street because they are unpleasant to the eye.
Practically, during the “Serenissima Republic”, the oldest profession in the world was not only tolerated, but even almost favored.
Location: Ponte de le Tette