Saturday, June 18, 2016

The old bridge

Ponte Vecchio
The oldest bridge in Florence.
Spanning the river Arno.
And has one hell of a story.

The first bridge in this spot was mentioned in a document of AD966 and was made of stone and wood.
However it was swept away in a flood in 1117.
It was rebuilt in stone, but washed away again in 1333 (all but two central piers) in another flood.
Rebuilt again in 1345.
And remains standing to this day.

 When walking across the bridge one feels like they're in a street of jewelry shops and not on a bridge.
And there's a reason for that.

After it was rebuilt, the government of Florence rented 46 shops on the bridge in an attempt to recoup some of the money the bridge cost to build.
Various tradesmen used the shops to begin with, but in 1442 the government let them all to the Guild of Butchers.

For a while all went swimmingly until 1495 when the government sold off the shops to raise cash.
Fishmongers and tanners moved in with the butchers and the bridge became one hell of a squalid and stinky place with all that wonderful industrial animal waste lying about.

In 1593 Ferdinand I de Medici decreed the place a health hazard, punted the butchers, tanners and fishmongers, and ordered only jewelry businesses and goldsmiths could have shops on the bridge.
And they remain there to this day.

In the two photos above you can see what looks like a long enclosed corridor with windows along the top of the shops on one side of the bridge.  This is part of the Vasari Corridor, also built by orders of the Medici family in 1565.

Cosimo I de Medici felt a bit insecure walking around in public and so had an enclosed passageway created to enable him to move freely between his residence and the government palace and avoid  the smell of the meat market below as well as the possibility of getting a stiletto in the neck.
Today it is an art gallery but you will have to wait until my next visit to Florence for any photos, as we were unable to include it in this trip.

The bridge had a lucky escape during the second world war when in 1944 retreating German forces (who made a habit of blowing up bridges to slow down the advance of the Allies) for some reason only blocked the Ponte Vecchio by reducing the buildings at both ends to rubble.

In 1966 the Arno river again flooded.  Thankfully the bridge survived though there are stories of tree trunks smashing through shop windows.

Because we went in Summer the bridge was utterly packed with fellow tourists and at times it was a bit uncomfortable being surrounded by so much humanity in great need of deodorant.  I almost felt I was back in the meat market days.

In the evening after all the shops close their fabulous wooden shutters, it is nice to wander along the bridge again.  There's less tourists, more room and one can appreciate the buildings and pause to reflect on the history of this wonderful bridge.

And yes - we did buy some jewelry.

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy - July 2015


  1. Nice set of photos. I enjoyed reading about the history of the old bridge.

    1. Thank you. I enjoyed writing it. It brought back memories of all the wonderful thoughts going through my head that day. :)

  2. Beautiful shots of this structure, Debs!

  3. Fascinating stuff, Debs. Well told and shown! Love the picture of the rose on your header, by the way.


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