7 Fun Facts about the Ponte Vecchio
October 05, 2013/in Blog/by admin
The Ponte Vecchio is one of the most beloved symbols of Florence.
How much do you know about it?
One of the best views of the bridge is from Piazzale Michelangelo
1 . The Bridge that Wouldn't Die
The first bridge over the Arno was built by the Romans, in wood and stone. Other bridges followed but none could withstand the powerful floods that frequently swept through the city. The current version of the bridge was designed in 1345 by the architect and painter Taddeo Gaddi. He ingeniously thought of using lower, wider arches which meant they could use fewer pillars and allow the water and debris to flow more freely underneath. The bridge later survived World War II, and more recently the disastrous flood of 1966. The shops were damaged but the pillars survived.
Floods completely envelop the lower part of the bridge, 1966
2. The Vasari Corridor, or, Walkways of the Rich and Famous
During Medieval times the bridge was home to the city’s butchers, who could clean and prepare their meats while letting the waste fall directly into the river. When Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, moved into the Pitti palace on the south side of the river, he realized he would have to walk across the bridge to get to work. Not one to walk amongst the masses (he had many enemies and was afraid of being assassinated), he had the architect Vasari design a “corridor” that would link his home with his office in the Piazza della Signoria. It’s almost a kilometer long and is still intact.
The first part of the corridor leaves the Palazzo Vecchio... and runs through the Uffizi and along the river.
3. In with the Goldsmiths, out with the Blood
While Cosimo I could now walk to work in safety, he didn’t like the idea of walking across a slaughterhouse, so he decreed that the butchers leave the bridge in favor of gold- and silver-smiths. It has kept this tradition ever since.
Once a meat market, now all that glitters IS gold.
4 . The One Kink in the Corridor
There were originally four towers guarding the entrances to the bridge. When the corridor was built, one family refused to tear down their tower, so Vasari was forced to build a “detour” to go around it. The Mannelli tower can still be seen on the south side of the Arno today.
The Mannelli family refused to move their tower, so the corridor had to snake around it.
5. New Windows for a Dictator
The Corridor is punctuated by small round windows, but you will see a row of bigger windows along the central part. Mussolini had these built in 1939 for the visit of Adolf Hitler so that he could better admire the view. Legend has it that this view convinced Hitler and his German officers to spare the Ponte Vecchio from destruction during their 1944 retreat. All of the other bridges in town were destroyed.
The big windows along the top were put in to impress Hitler in 1939
6. I Will always Love You
You can always find a handful of padlocks attached to the fence around the statue of Benvenuti Cellini. The statue was erected in 1901 to commemorate the 400th birthday of the Florentine goldsmith, but the tradition of putting up padlocks is a fairly recent trend (imported from Asia!). It’s supposed to symbolize eternal love, but instead it just became a danger and an eye-sore, so the city threatens a €160 fine for anyone locking anything to the fence. This hasn’t kept young lovers from doing it anyway.
7. I'm ready for My Close-up, Mr. Brown...
The Ponte Vecchio now plays a starring role in Dan Brown’s new mystery, “Inferno.” If you come to Florence, you can even take a tour that leads you through the secret passageways in his book. Whatch out, you pop out in Istanbul!
Need I mention that our home offices are in Tuscany and many of our guides live in Florence?? Come explore with us on any of our Tuscan tours, or heck, follow the mystery and come with us all the way to Turkey!