If you visit Torcello and you leave the Vaporetto and walk towards the Church. You follow the canal and after some 200 meters you see a bridge on your right, Ponte del Diavolo. This is one of only two bridges in the lagoon still without the parapet. The other one being Ponte Chiodo at Cannaregio. And it’s how most of the bridges in Venice once looked, with no railing on the side.
The name means The Devils Bridge. The legend tells of a young, beautiful girl from the neighborhood. Hair dark as the Venetian night, eyes deep brown as endless wells, and lips eager and full of youth and exuberance.
She fell in love. Not with a handsome boy from next door, but with someone who could never be hers. As in so many tragic love stories, her hearts flame and desire wanted someone who was as impossible as the moon to the lone wolf… An Austrian soldier.
Austria was the enemy. And the soldiers were the ones that oppressed the people and they were hated by the family of the girl. Her father tried to talk her out of it, her mother begged her to forget him but in vain. In the end, they sent her away. She cried and longed and begged and tried to convince her family to let her come back. Until one day a message reached the young woman. Her Austrian soldier had been assassinated. She couldn’t believe it and she wouldn’t accept it. The poor girl stopped eating and she stopped doing her duties. She didn’t want to live anymore.
Soon after, she came back to her family but in a dreadful state. Her mother and father tried to help her but she had lost the spark of life.
On the northern part of the island, where the swamp of the misty lagoon starts, lived a witch. And the girl went there in secret to beg her to help her. The old woman first said that nothing could be done, but then she looked at the young girls face with her tear-filled dark eyes and she hesitatingly agreed to practice her art.
And on midnight the last Sunday of November, the two women stood at the Devils Bridge on the northern side, waiting. The girl held a lit candle and a gold coin in her hand. When the witch called out into the night, a figure all covered in a huge black coat stepped up on the bridge from the far side. The two women could hear his feet banging against the stone pavement of the bridge. Pushed by the old witch the girl walked up to the middle of the bridge. The dark phantom took the gold coin, opened his pocket and grabbed the key of time and space and threw it in the canal. At that moment the Austrian soldier appeared on the other side of the bridge. The girl ran to him an when she was in his arms once more she blew out the candle and in the darkness, they saw the path to love and happiness at their feet.
But the witch still had to pay the price. For the devil doesn’t give away life for gold coins only. Every Christmas Eve at midnight for seven years to come the woman had to bring the dead body of a baptized, Christian child to the bridge. And there the devil would take the soul of the infant.
The nights in the lagoon are full of ears and full of eyes, and unfortunately… Or fortunately, that night they were not alone. Someone was watching them. It took only three days before the little cottage of the witch was burnt to the ground. And the woman died in the flames. We will never know who did it, but what we can know is that he saved seven innocent children from a terrible fate.
So the ransom was never paid… The demon got tricked. And every midnight the 24th of December on the stone bridge at Torcello halfway between the sea and the church, the one without the parapet, a black cat walks from this side to that and back again, looking, waiting to be paid. If you see him, just walk away slowly and maybe, just maybe he will leave you in peace.