Ponte Vecchio Florence Old Bridge

The Ponte Vecchio or Old Bridge in Florence is the most famous and archaic bridge across the Arno River. The current structure, built by Taddeo Gaddi in 1345, replaced a wooden crossing that was washed away by a flood twelve years earlier. Both incarnations were home to the bridge's characteristic overhanging shops that make it such a popular destination.

Perspective of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence from the river bank.

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Traders first opened for business on the Ponte in the 12th century. Tax exemption allegedly playing a large part in the demand for premisses here. The bridge was monopolised by food stores for centuries until, in the 1500s, Ferdinando I de' Medici had Giorgio Vasari construct a corridor along the top of the bridge. This is now called the Vasariano Corridor and is technically part of the Uffizi Gallery. Although now closed to the public it was on top of the bridge to link the Palazzo Vecchio with his home, the Pitti Palace. The story goes that he could not stand the smell of the butchers emanating from below and promptly expelled all such businesses, along with all the other establishments deemed lower-class, from the bridge.

The glories of glittering bling from Firenze!

Forty-one goldsmiths and eight jewellers took their places. Both are still the prominent trades on the walkway today and are well worth a look even if you do not intend to buy. The display windows practically glow from the wealth of gilded produce on show. Watches, necklaces, bracelets, rings, medals and chalices are all on prominent display along the length of the bridge. Other items on sale include precious stones, pure silk neckties, scarves and leather gloves. It looks expensive, and it is, but after all this is top of the range "Made in Firenze" merchandise.

The dealers' heritage is acknowledged by the presence of a bust of the city's most renowned goldsmith, Benvenuto Cellini, who counted painter, sculptor and solider amongst his other vocations. The railings that surround the monument have long been used for a local romantic tradition that involves clamping a padlock to a rail and throwing the key into the river, symbolising an eternal bond. These mass lockings have not enamoured the local authorities, however, and anyone caught affixing something to the bridge is now saddled with a 50 Euro fine!

A perspective view when the sun is in the right place can give you something to realy remember

Even more spectacular than the storefronts are the views of the river Arno, which of course, can be enjoyed for free. The next bridge downriver, the Ponte di Santa Trinita, is worth a good look from both afar and in person. Designed by Bartolomeo Ammannati (supposedly working from sketches by Michelangelo) in 1567, it was destroyed by the retreating German army in 1944, and meticulously reconstructed after the war. Its corners are surmounted by four statues which were recreated from parts retrieved from the riverbed. Each figure was sculpted by a separate master of the Florentine school to commemorate the marriage of Cosimo II and Maria Maddalena of Austria in 1608.

Interestingly, the only bridge of the four in Florence at the time, German forces did not raze during World War II was the Ponte Vecchio. Allegedly this was because of an express order by Hitler. This surprising act of clemency means that the bridge is now not only the oldest segmental arch bridge extant in Florence, but also in Europe.