This bridge once held magical properties that could turn homosexual men into heterosexual men — properties held in such high regard that the Council of Venice actually sponsored them. But then, what else would you expect of a crosswalk dubbed "The Bridge of Breasts"?

In 14th century Venice, while no one was under the impression that sex outside of wedlock was sanctioned by the church, people were generally of the opinion that prostitution had a salutary effect on society. It was a harmless way to keep a large amount of drunk, armed young men occupied and it provided money for women who might otherwise have starved or relied on the state to support them. Instead of being a burden on the public purse, women who became prostitutes paid taxes, and that tax money didn't always come from other Venetians. As Venice grew in fame, outsiders poured into the city's red light districts, and their money poured into the city coffers.

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Venice became known for its courtesans, but soon it became known for other things. Around the beginning of the 1400s, the Council of Venice was shocked, shocked to learn that not all prostitutes were women, and that the red light districts were centers of homosexual as well as heterosexual sex. Their solution is pictured above. It's called Ponte delle Tette, which is often translated as "The Bridge of Breasts," but might more honestly be called "Tit Bridge."

Some courtesans were asked to stand on the bridge with their breasts exposed in order to prove they weren't male prostitutes in drag. At some point someone in power must have had the idea that no man, when faced with an entire bridge full of breasts, could stay gay. Courtesans got paid to stand on Ponte delle Tette and try to entice homosexual men with their exposed breasts. Once the gay men were drawn in, the prostitutes could go to step two of the conversion process — vigorous heterosexual intercourse with someone who knew how to do it right.

There are no records on the success rate of this plan. Given what we now know about sexuality, I'd guess that its effectiveness could at best be described as "limited." It remains one of history's more gentle forms of conversion therapy — and its most productive. Sure, it probably didn't convert anyone, but at least we got a bridge out of it.

[Via Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast, Courtesan Power]

Image: Paolo Steffan.