The Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is one of the symbols of the city of Florence (Firenze). An obligatory destination for tourists visiting the city, Ponte Vecchio is the oldest bridge in Florence and one of the most famous bridges in the world.
Ponte Vecchio is located in the place where in the Roman times the first bridge was built to span the Arno river at its narrowest point, and where later the Via Cassia crossed the river. The historical dating makes it date back to the period immediately following the foundation of the city.
Until 1218 it was also the only bridge over the Arno river in Florence. The different constructions of the bridge in ancient times were repeatedly damaged or destroyed by fires and floods, until the last destruction in 1333.
Only in 1345 the bridge was rebuilt with the structure that we can admire today. This three segmental arches construction is attributed by Vasari to Taddeo Gaddi (disciple of Giotto) or according to some more recent historians to Neri di Fioravanti. The new building also saw the creation of 43 “botteghe” (shops) along its flanks, which were first rented and then sold to merchants and artisans. In 1442, however, the city authority imposed on the butchers from all over the city to move to the Ponte Vecchio shops. The aim was to allow the butchers to get rid of the meat waste that could now be thrown directly into the river below, without having to transport them from every corner of the city. The Ponte Vecchio thus became the place where the meat market was located with other rowdy grocers and fishmongers. The shops then began to need more space and could not build their spaces on the pavement: they built new rooms externally over the river, helding up by slender wooden stakes. These backroom, the “beccatelli“, seem to be suspended in mid-air. And it is precisely these structures that still add further charm to this extraordinary structure.
In 1565 the Vasari Corridor was built over the Ponte Vecchio. This work is named after Giorgio Vasari who built it in just 5 months at the behest of Cosimo I de’ Medici. It’s a corridor of about one kilometer with the aim of connecting Palazzo Vecchio (Florence‘s town hall, the political and administrative heart of the city) with Palazzo Pitti (the chief residence of the Medici family), passing through the Galleria degli Uffizi (Uffizi Gallery). In this way the Medici could move in absolute safety without having to cross the streets of the city.
In 1593, however, another Medici, Grand Duke Ferdinando I, decided to move the butchers’ shops from that place because of the unpleasant smells that he had to endure by crossing the Vasari Corridor every day. The shops were thus occupied by goldsmiths and silversmiths who still today transmit their art in that place.
Precisely because the Ponte Vecchio with its shops has been the goldsmith’s art for centuries, on the bridge was inaugurated in 1901 a fountain with a bust of Benvenuto Cellini, the most famous master goldsmith in the city. This bust, created by Raffaello Romanelli, was erected on the occasion of the fourth centenary of the birth of Cellini. And in more recent years a singular tradition had been initiated that wanted to hang padlocks on the railings around the Cellini monument, padlocks placed by lovers as a symbol of their indissoluble love bond. The locks’ keys were then thrown into the Arno river. This tradition was then interrupted by the council because of the huge amount of padlocks that aesthetically displeasing and damaged the monument.
During the retreat of the German troops in 1944, Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge in Florence not to be shot down. There are several versions on this. One wants the German hierarchs to be fascinated enough to not destroy it along with all the other bridges of the city. In fact in the post-war period the German former consul in Florence, Gerhard Wolf, was awarded honorary citizenship for this and other merits. A different version wants that thanks to some intrepid goldsmiths the bridge has been saved from destruction by cutting the wires that triggered the devices.
Ponte Vecchio is undoubtedly a place full of history and charm that can not be avoided by visiting Florence. By day it is perfect for shopping or just to admire the art and colors of this picturesque place. We point out the ancient sundial on the roof of a shop that overlooks the square in the middle of the bridge. Near it there is a stone plaque (unfortunately almost illegible) that says: “In the year thirty-three after the year one hundred three hundred, the bridge collapsed due to floods of water; twelve years later, as pleased the City, it was rebuilt with this ornament “. An evening walk on the bridge, flanking the shops closed with their thick wooden doors, plunges us into a charming and romantic atmosphere.