9 Things You Didn’t Know about Ponte Vecchio in Florence

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Ponte Vecchio in Florence1 – The History

Ponte Vecchio has a rich history. It crosses at the narrowest point of the Arno river, but the bridge that we know and love today is actually not the original that was built. The first few were destroyed in various floods throughout history, the earliest known to have been a wooden structure built by the Romans around 1080. Next in place, in the late 1100’s, was a stone arched version that was damaged and then subsequently destroyed by floods, with the final destruction occurring in Florence’s worst flood in history, in 1333.

2 – From Old Palace to Old Bridge

Famed architect Vasari was commissioned by Cosimo I to reconstruct a new bridge, requesting that there also be a corridor running across the bridge. Still in place today, the Medici King’s passageway allowed the King to get from his home at the Pitti Palace to Palazzo Vecchio (‘Old Palace’), which served as the parliament office, going via the Uffizi Gallery, which was originally offices (‘Uffizi’) for officials.

3 – Facts and Fictions

Legend has it that the Vasari corridor allowed the King to pass by without causing a fuss amongst the adoring locals. But the truth may be that it also allowed protection from those who wished to express their discontent via fruit throwing at the King during times of local difficulty!

4 – Ponte Vecchio during the War

Another popular Ponte Vecchio story recounts how during the war, the rest of the bridges along the Arno river were bombed in an attempt to block tanks from being able to place weaponry on the bridges to shoot overhead planes, and also to block entrance/exit into the historical centre. However, the Ponte Vecchio was not destroyed, as it was believed that the covering of the bridge by the King’s passageway would mean it was not possible to utilise it in an attack. But it was proven to be possible to use the bridge to fire from, and it was this that allowed Florentines to win against the Germans.

5 – Art has no flags

Hitler and Mussolini visited the bridge when the Nazis were seeking allies. Three windows were put into the overhead passageway for the occasion. But once this deal turned sour and the Germans attacked the town, it was the German liaison officer who ensured the bridge’s safety in the 1944 bombing as a sign of respect of its history.

6 – The Great Flood

In 1966, Florence was again flooded when the Arno overflowed after a solid month of rain. When waters subsided, the locals rushed to the riverbanks to see the state of their beloved bridge. Pine trees had pierced through the central archways, but other than some water damage, the bridge itself remained intact.

7 – A Bridge for shopping Tours

The bridge itself is comprised of a central walkway, which runs between shops that line both sides of the bridge. In the centre, there is an opening on both sides that affords a spectacular view of the river bank and the buildings that run along it.
In the past, the stores on the bridge were used by local butchers. Offcuts were thrown into the river for convenient disposal, and to avoid having their unsightly work occur within the actual city centre. When more space was required, an additional room was just tacked onto the outside of bridge in any way possible, accounting for the somewhat disorganised structures jutting out here and there.

8 – A Gold Bridge in the past?

Once it was decided that it was not acceptable to have the odours from the meat works rising up into the King’s passageway, the butchers were asked to leave in the late 1500s, and in their place arrived jewellers and a few other artisans who set up shop on the bridge. A bust of famed Florence jeweller, Benvenuto Cellini, takes pride of place at the centre of the bridge.

9 – The G(Old) Bridge

Nowadays, the bridge is predominantly lined with gold and jewellery stores. Walking along the bridge, people stop to gaze at the many traditional jewellery items that Florence is famed for. Florentines are renowned for being immaculately dressed and jewelled. Owing to Florence’s long history of producing some of the world’s best art and artisan items, jewellery has become one of the historical town’s best-loved productions along with leather work and fashion.