Visitors to the Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail cannot help but be awed by the bridge which connects the courthouse to the former jail complex. The bridge is clearly seen in most pictures of the courthouse complex because it visually stimulates the viewer. Consisting of stone, the bridge has four small openings split in the middle by a larger view port. A linear roof covers the structure and a curved arch supports a majority of the weight. The curved arch is similar to the Romanesque style but with an eclectic stone conglomeration. The bottom section of the bridge contrasts nicely with the rest of the bridge which causes the bridge to stand out from the sky.
Besides looking pretty, the bridge also served a practical purpose. Prisoners, convicted in the courthouse, needed to be transported safely and securely to the jail. (Source) Instead of risking a journey across Ross Street the prisoners were escorted through the protected bridge to the jail where they were locked up for their crimes. It was a practical way to intertwine form and function, which is the utmost goal of architecture.
Interestingly, the bridge is based on the “Bridge of Sighs” in Venice, Italy. The Bridge of Sighs “was designed by Antonio Contino and was built at the beginning of the seventeenth century.” (Source) It spans the Rio di Palazzo and, similar to the Allegheny Courthouse, connects the famous Doge’s Palace with the New Jail. Doge’s Palace is a defunct palace where trials used to be held. After the trial, the prisoners were escorted across the bridge to the New Jail. The bridge receives its name because prisoners passed through the bridge, received their last view of Venice, and were rumored to sigh at the view. (Source) The bridge is recognized as the most popular bridge in Venice and legend claims if a couple passes beneath they will be in love forever. No literature analyzes if couples passing under the bridge in Pittsburgh will fall in love.
As mentioned before, the appearance of the courthouse changed when Pittsburgh lowered the ground, up to 16 feet in places. The bridge went from being close to pedestrian traffic to looming over the whole area. I argue the removal of the ground enhanced the presence and power of the bridge because it became higher and thus more impressive.
When the jail was converted to extra court spaces the bridge became a relic of the past, serving no function other than to look pretty. The rusticated granite, quarried in Massachusetts, contributes to the overall aura of the building. A powerful looking building, the courthouse, the bridge included, serves the perfect function of servicing Allegheny County. Visitors to the courthouse today will immediately notice the bridge as one of the defining features of the Allegheny County Courthouse, a distinguished building in all of the country.
One thought on “The Bridge of Sighs”
This post really focuses on many different aspects of the courthouse, which is absolutely great. You mention history, inspiration, and architecture. I can imagine that many individuals would not guess that this bridge had been inspired by one in Italy, and your inclusion of both allows for an amazing comparison. This post is really interesting and you present it in a very interesting manner.