Ponte Vecchio The Oldest Bridge In Florence

The Italian city of ‘Florence’ is world renowned for its spectacular Renaissance architecture & rich culture. This city houses many amazing monuments which vividly underline the prowess of legendary Florentine architects & artists. The ‘Ponte Vecchio’ is one of such amazing architectures, apart from the famous ‘Florence Cathedral’, which attracts the hundreds of thousands of tourists every year.

The ‘Ponte Vecchio’ is the oldest bridge in the Florence, which is built across the ‘Arno River’. This medieval bridge of Florence was built in Roman era & is famous globally for its shops which are built along it. This ‘spandrel segmental arch’ bridge is always flocked by numerous tourists & many musicians, artists & entertainers who create an amazing atmosphere all day round. Two neighboring bridges- ‘Ponte Santa Trinita’ & ‘Ponte alle Grazie’ accompany this veteran bridge to handle most of the traffic in the city.

Ponte Vecchio: The Oldest Bridge In Florence
Ponte Vecchio: The Oldest Bridge In Florence

History In Brief:

It is believed that the bridge was built for the first time during the Roman reign to pave a way for ‘Via Cassia’ to cross the river. The original bridge was built with the stone piers which lasted till 1117. However, the devastating floods in 1117 completely destroyed this bridge which in turn was reconstructed using stone. The destructive deluge of 1333 again swept away this bridge leaving behind only two of its central piers. The bridge was built once again in 1345 & is standing since then flaunting the shops & the houses that are built on it.

The Architecture:-

The ‘Ponte Vecchio’ was built perhaps by ‘Neri da Fioravante’, although; the great Florentine architect ‘Giorgio Vasari’ had attributed its design to ‘Taddeo Gaddi’. The bridge consists of three segmental arches built on stone piers. The main arch spans 30 meters (98 feet) of distance, whereas, the arches on the either sides span 27 meters (89 feet) each. The height of the arches ranges between 3.5 & 4.4 meters.   

 The ‘Ponte Vecchio’ always had shops & houses which was the common practice in major European cities at the time of the middle ages. Shopkeepers used to arrange their goods on tables right in front of their shops after getting sanctioned by the ‘Bargello’ (sort of local mayor or magistrate).

Ponte Vecchio: The Oldest Bridge In Florence
Ponte Vecchio: The Oldest Bridge In Florence

It is said that the butchers association had occupied the majority of the shops on the bridge since 1422 & had the monopoly in an entire market, although, other shopkeepers like grocers, fishmongers & tanners were also there. The fortune of the bridge changed in 1593, when the Grand Duke Ferdinand I ordered the authorities to prohibit the butchers from selling their goods on this bridge. The step was supposedly taken in order to clear the vicinity from the stinking garbage & foul air.

The vacant place was then immediately occupied by the goldsmiths, which in turn, resulted in the drastic makeover of this bridge giving it cleaner & regal appearance. Today, the bridge is occupied by myriad adorable shops of jewelers, art dealers & antique artifact merchants. Many tourists enjoy buying souvenirs from the shops residing here.

Vasari Corridor:

In 1565, the Duke of Florence- ‘Cosimo I de Medici’ ordered to build a private corridor to connect the ‘Uffizi’ to the ‘Palazzo Pitti’ which would pass over the shops so that the royal family members of Florence can move to & fro across the river by avoiding the frequent heavy crowd on the bridge. The legendary Florentine architect ‘Giorgio Vasari’ had built this exclusive corridor for the duke, which, however, became famous as ‘Corridoio Vasariano’ (Vasari’s corridor).               

Ponte Vecchio: The Oldest Bridge In Florence
Ponte Vecchio: The Oldest Bridge In Florence

Interesting Trivia:-

  • The ‘Vasari Corridor’ has a curious story associated with its construction. The south side of the bridge has medieval period tower meant for the protection of the bridge which was owned by the ‘Mannelli’ family. The tower owners strongly oppose the idea of giving passage to the Duke’s corridor by demolishing the tower, due to which, Vasari had to build it around the Mannelli Tower, like the way we can see it today.
  • The ‘Ponte Vecchio’ is the only bridge running across the Arno which didn’t fall prey to the agony of retreating Germans during World War II. All other bridges except ‘Ponte Vecchio’, were demolished by the Nazi army, although the Nazis did try to obstruct the access of this bridge by demolishing the medieval period buildings on the either flanks of Arno near the bridge.

This gorgeous bridge reaches to the peak of its beauty at the time of dusk & watching it from its neighboring ‘Ponte Santa Trinita’ is a real treat to eyes!