Alongside David in the Uffizi, and the famous dome of Cathedral, the Ponte Vecchio is the essential stopping point on all Florence tours. Gazing down at the waters of the River Arno, gleaming in the sunshine, and reflecting the towers of the city, it’s not hard to see why. But how much do you know about the secrets of Italy’s most iconic bridge? |
The Origins of the Bridge
The Ponte Vecchio is not the first bridge on this site. The current structure dates back to 1345-50, which replaced even older bridges, which had collapsed from flooding in 1333. The bridge originally served as a defensive structure, with battlements spanning its length, and two fortified towers at either end.
The Ponte Vecchio came to take on a different purpose, however, which can be hard to imagine today: from 1442, it was home to rows upon rows of butcher’s shops. The bridge was ideal for disposing waste directly into the river below, keeping foul odours away from the rest of the city. Fortunately, the Ponte Vecchio is a much more romantic spot today.
The Ponte Vecchio is built on the narrowest part of the River Arno. Its site was specially chosen for its harmonious proportions: its length fits the ration 1:2, corresponding with Pythagorean Mysticism.
The most famous feature of the Ponte Vecchio, and favourite for all Florence tours, is the Vasari corridor, which runs at the top of the bridge. Named after its architect, it was built in 1565 for the Medici family, so that they could move between their two residences, the Palazzo Pitti and the Pallazo Vecchio, in private.
The design of the corridor doesn’t run in a perfectly straight line, passing round the Mannelli tower at the southeast corner of the bridge. This wasn’t a flaw by the architect, however, but was due to the powerful Mannelli family refusing to demolish the building to allow for the passageway. With only five months in which to complete the construction, Vasari opted to work round the tower instead.
The Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge in Florence not to be destroyed by bombing during the Second World War. The German consul Gerhard Wolf ensured access to the bridge was obstructed during the Nazi retreat of 1944, so that it could be spared.
Titbit: When Hitler visited Florence during his state visit to Italy in May 1938, Mussolini knocked through the three windows in the centre of the bridge on its western side to form one large viewing gallery to honour his guest with the best possible view.
The Bridge Today
The Ponte Vecchio is still a haven for shoppers, and has been ever since jewellers and goldsmiths took over from the butchers at the end of the sixteenth century. The bridge is now a byword for glamour, and no visit would be complete without making a purchase. It is also one of the most photographed bridges in the world, the star of cultural hits such as Dan Brown’s Inferno, and is crossed by thousands of feet everyday from the hundreds tourists taking Florence tours and guided walks around the city.
Of course, the best way to experience the bridge is to cross it, so why not join us on one of our Florence tours and see the bridge from all angles? Just book on the day, and we can take over the rest.
Rose Magers is an Australian-born Italophile and the founder of ArtViva. With an international reputation for excellence and creativity, ArtViva are at the forefront of escorted day tours in Italy. Rose has indulged her own passion for history and the arts by designing an innovative range of exceptional small group Florence tours and experiences, from guided visits to view the masterpieces of the great art galleries to unforgettable Italian cookery and art classes.
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