Ponte Vecchio is an ancient bridge with stores. Italy. Description, photos

Ponte Vecchio Bridge

The Ponte Vecchio is the symbol of the city of Florence, erected in the 14th century over the Arno River. Having survived dozens of floods and miraculously survived World War II, when the retreating German army blew up all the other bridges in the city, Ponte Vecchio attracts tourists like a magnet. Tightly built on both sides with expensive jewelry and souvenir stores, Florence’s oldest bridge is constantly packed with people. Ponte Vecchio looks especially spectacular in the holiday lighting at night, when hundreds of lights and the bridge’s three openings are reflected in the waters of the Arno.

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Video: Walking the Ponte Vecchio Bridge

History of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge.

The first bridge in the narrowest part of the Arno River, in the ford area, was built back in Roman times, roughly in the first century B.C. During work on the river bed soon after World War II, concrete foundations laid at an angle to the banks so that the bridge could withstand frequent destructive floods. Before 123 the width of the bridge had increased to 3 m because the Cassius road, intended to connect Rome with the northern provinces, was built across it. Imperfect Roman architectural cunning did not save the bridge: in the 6th and 7th centuries, it was destroyed by the combined efforts of the elements and the barbarian crowds that swept through Italy. In the Middle Ages, the restored bridge was swept away by floods at least twice. The penultimate version was built in 1177 on oak beams left over from its predecessor. The flood of 1333, the most violent in the history of the Arno, destroyed it as well.

Ponte Vecchio photographed by Carlo Broggi (pre-1925)

In 1345 the city authorities got tired of paying for regular reconstructions and commissioned an architect to design a stone bridge. Giorgio Vasari, painter and art historian, claims that this master was Thaddeo Gaddi; modern scholars doubt this and attribute the authorship to Neri di Fioravanti. In any case, the new stone bridge, later named Vecchio, i.e. “old”, quickly became a bustling commercial spot. For sanitary reasons beyond our comprehension, the butchers’ shops were moved here so that they would not leave their waste in the street near the palaces of the nobility, but dump it in the river. Soon the portable tables became too small for the merchants and the bridge became overgrown with constructions on corbels over the water. This did not add to its beauty, but it had a lot of visitors.

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The Ponte Vecchio Bridge nowadays

In this form, the bridge, supplemented in the 16th century by the Vasari corridor with a second tier laid above it, survives to this day. During World War II, it was undamaged, unlike other bridges in the city, but the buildings adjacent to it were destroyed. They had to be restored in a hurry in the 50s, so the reconstruction of the quarter is not entirely accurate. Two mutually exclusive legends explain why the Germans spared the bridge. According to the first, it was Hitler personally who was sensitive. Before the war, he came to Italy to form an alliance with Mussolini, and was driven to the most important cities in the country. The Ponte Vecchio bridge made a lasting impression on him, and on his orders in 1944 the landmark was not blown up.

Proponents of the second legend do not believe in the Führer’s sentimentality. It is believed that a semi-paralyzed jeweler, owner of one of the shops, accidentally witnessed the laying of the explosives on the night of August 3 to 4. The polio-stricken man was considered a feeble-minded lunatic and ignored him, while he retained a lucid mind and managed to explain to his assistants how to cut the wires. Be that as it may, the Ponte Vecchio Bridge survived, and even a massive flood of the 1960s failed to destroy it.

Trading on the bridge

The butchers on the Ponte Vecchio stayed for two and a half centuries, but then because of the perpetual dirt and smells they were moved to the outskirts of the city. The butchers were replaced by respectable jewelers. A legend about the origin of the word “bankrupt” is connected with them. Each merchant would take his goods out of the store and spread them out on a table, a “banco”. If he went bankrupt and could not pay his creditors, the soldiers, who played the role of bailiffs, would break, i.e. “rotto”, the bench, and he would have nothing to trade on. Today the stores retain their original appearance, even the showcases with decorations rest on ancient wooden bases. Prices in them are clearly overpriced – the owners take a percentage for the promotion of the place. In less-publicized areas of Florence you can find gold much cheaper and of higher quality.

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Architecture of Ponte Vecchio bridge

Ponte Vecchio consists of three segments, the length of the central one is 30 meters, the side ones are 27 meters, the maximum height of the construction is 4.4 meters. The author of the project rejected the standard Roman model, which prescribed placing the bridge on short arches. This increased the stability of the bridge for pedestrians and riders, but was dangerous in case of flooding, when small arches got clogged with silt and branches carried by the river, while the ones left free could not bear the load. The stores that appeared on the Ponte Vecchio without the architects’ involvement turned it into an ordinary city street, and only the three open arches in the center of the bridge remind us of the proximity of the river. Above the eastern edge of the bridge is the Vasari corridor, on the other side is a bust of Cellini.

Vasari Corridor

In 1565, the corridor between Palazzo Pitti, where the Uffizi Gallery now stands, and Palazzo Vecchio, Florentine town hall, was built over the bridge by Giorgio Vasari, commissioned by Cosimo I. The structure, about a kilometer long, was completed in only five months – a record time for the 16th century – and was named after the architect in gratitude to customers. The nobility could now move freely from their residence in the Palazzo Pitti to their workplace – the Town Hall – without encountering the common people. Their presence was only reminded by the pungent smells of raw meat coming from the Ponte Vecchio. This annoyed the aristocracy, and in 1593 the butchers were dispersed despite agreements with the city.

After World War II, when the coastal buildings lay in ruins, the passage remained the only way to connect the southern and northern parts of the city. Now the Vasari corridor is partially open for viewing, but can only be visited with a guide. It contains works of Italian artists of different periods, a collection of self-portraits of world-famous authors, including Kustodiev and Kiprensky. In 1993 a car exploded near the Uffizi, the crime was attributed to the Mafia. Some of the paintings in the Vasari Gallery were damaged by shrapnel so that they could not be restored. The mutilated canvases were left hanging in the hallway to commemorate the terrible explosion.

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Bust of Cellini.

In the middle of the eastern part of the Ponte Vecchio bridge in 1900, for the 400th anniversary of the sculptor Benvenuto Cellini, a bronze bust by Raffaello Romanelli was placed. A few decades ago a rumor swirled among tourists and locals that padlocks on the lattice around Cellini would keep love forever, and immediately hundreds of dubious decorations appeared on the fence. In 2006, the Florentine administration, tired of repairing the lattice, which was not designed for the additional load, adopted a decree on a fine of 50 euros for damaging the city’s property. However, the tradition is not dead: now the locks are hung nearby, in the area of Via Arquibusieri on the side of City Hall.

Information for tourists

Entrance to the bridge is free around the clock. The Ponte Vecchio is always crowded: both organized tours and individual tourists consider it their duty to visit one of Florence’s main attractions. There is nothing to photograph in the side aisles except jewelry storefronts, the open central part is usually crowded, and it is difficult to choose a place for a photo. The best photos of the bridge are taken from the side, especially in the evening, when Ponte Vecchio is generously illuminated and you cannot see the stores, cluttering its walls.

Ponte Vecchio Bridge

How to get there

The address of the bridge is: Ponte Vecchio, Lungarno degli Archibusieri, 8/r, 50122, Firenze.

The easiest way to get to Ponte Vecchio is by cab. You can also take public transportation: there are Vola in Bus buses around the city, get off at Piazza della Signoria. Next to the bridge is also the Ponte Vecchio bus stop, where the C3 and D bus routes go.

Ponte Vecchio – medieval bridge of stores

Ponte Vecchio is an ancient bridge literally dotted with stores. It is one of the most interesting sights in Florence.

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Many centuries ago bridges served not only as a crossing. Often medieval bridges were characterized by the construction of, for example, chapels or stores on them. Many bridges were fortified with towers and ramparts because they were strategically important entrances to the city.

In this case, the Ponte Vecchio Bridge has neither military fortifications nor chapels. Its main feature is the presence of many stores, preserved since the Middle Ages.

Ponte Vecchio

Where is Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio or as it is also called “The Old Bridge” is located in Italy and connects the banks of the Arno River, flowing right through the center of Florence.

The bridge is almost in the center of the city.

Ponte Vecchio in numbers

The stone bridge consists of 3 segmental arches. The arch in the center is 30 meters long. The two side ones are 27 meters each. The height of the arch ranges from 3.5 to 4.4 meters. The length of the bridge is slightly more than 100 meters. The width is up to 20 meters.

History of the Ponte Vecchio

The first bridge here was probably built by the Romans. It is mentioned in historical documents from 996. But it was demolished by a violent flood in 1117. A little later the bridge was rebuilt, and again in 1333 it is destroyed by a flood. Twelve years later the bridge is rebuilt again under the direction of the artist and architect Tadeo Gaddi. Some historians believe that the architect of the bridge was Neri di Fioravanti. Since then, the bridge has graced the city and attracted crowds of tourists. In 1966, during a flood, the bridge suffered minor damage.

Ponte Vecchio

The birth and flowering of trade on the Ponte Vecchio

The bridge began to be used as a shopping plaza since ancient times. Initially the trading places were rented to butchers, fishmongers and tanners. But the problem was that the path connecting the town hall and the governor’s palace goes through Ponte Vecchio. And there was a lot of trash and foul smells from the market stalls. Duke Ferdinando de’ Medici dispersed the merchants and replaced them with jewelers. Because of this, the bridge was sometimes called the “Golden Bridge”.

Today, jewelry stores represent most of the outlets on the bridge. In addition, there are several art workshops and souvenir stores.

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Ponte Vecchio. Florence

On the Ponte Vecchio Bridge

By the 15th century, the retail spaces, which were first rented out, began to be sold to private individuals. The new owners began remodeling the spaces, adding terraces and rooms. By the 17th century, the bridge had acquired the rather chaotic appearance we can see today.

Ponte Vecchio

The outbuildings on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge

In Italy, stores can be seen not only on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. The Rialto Bridge in Venice is also famous for its stores and ancient history.

Where did the “bankruptcy” come from.

Ponte Vecchio has been filled with stores since the 13th century. Goods could only be sold on the tables, and only after special permission from the authorities. If a merchant could not pay his debts, the table where he laid out his goods (called “banco”) was broken (“rotto”) by soldiers, effectively destroying the merchant’s business. This practice was called “bancorotto. Historians believe that this is how the concept of bancorotto was formed.

Statue of Benvenuto Cellini

In 1900, to commemorate and celebrate the 400th anniversary of the great Florentine sculptor and master goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini, the leading bridge jewelers commissioned Raffaello Romanelli, the most famous Florentine sculptor of the time, to create a bronze bust of Cellini. The work was done, and the monument stands in the middle of the eastern side of the bridge to this day.

Statue of Benvenuto Cellini

Statue of Benvenuto Cellini on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge

Interesting Facts

  1. The banks of the Arno River in the Florence area are connected by 10 bridges. Many of them can be crossed by car. But Ponte Vecchio cannot be crossed by car, as it is usually filled with tourists
  2. Ponte Vecchio is the oldest bridge in the city. In addition, the only one that has retained its original appearance
  3. 3 arched windows in the center of the bridge were created in 1938 on the orders of Mussolini. They say he did it to please Adolf Hitler, who could enjoy the beautiful views of Florence during his visit to Italy

It is worth recalling that Hitler had a favorite vacation spot. This is the beautiful Lake Königssee in Germany.

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