The architrave of the internal side of the gateway identifies this as the Pons Omnium Sanctorum [All Saints’ Bridge], but this gateway in Padua’s sixteenth-century city walls is most popularly known as Porta Portello; the name refers to the medieval portello [small port] which was located at the end of the modern-day Via San Massimo and then in 1534 transferred to a point near the new city gateway. Commissioned by Aurelio Loredan, military governor of Padua, the gateway was built in 1518 – after designs by the architect Guglielmo Grizi – and from the outset was intended primarily as a civilian/commercial facility. It is faced with Istrian stone and has eight columns resting upon pedestals that appear to rise out of the waters of the Piovego river. The structure is surmounted by a small tower with a clock; on the right side of it – where once there would have been the Lion of St. Mark – is a carved bas-relief of a turreted castle, a symbol of Venetian rule over the mainland.
The two crests located over the triumphal arch are those of the city of Padua itself and of the reigning Doge, Leonardo Loredan. Beyond the bridge stands the shrine of Santa Maria dei Barcaioli [Our Lady of the Boatmen], which dates from 1790; it was here that passengers heard mass before embarking on the burchi which would take them along the Brenta to Venice. Beneath a capital in the wall is a plaque that recalls that the structure was built in 1534; beneath is a statue of the Madonna dei Barcari del Portello. Depicted in a work by Canaletto, the Scalinata [Steps] were used by those embarking on the boats that travelled the Riveria del Brenta. In the stone of the parapet you can still see a carved chessboard and a board for playing Nine Men’s Morris.
Perhaps these games provided a pastime for the guards at the city gate or the customs officers who oversaw the loading and unloading of goods.