Ponte Vecchio: much more than a bridge
It’s the bond between North and South of Florence, a symbol of the city’s beauty and strength. Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in town – reason why it’s called the Old Bridge –, was the only one across the Arno until 1218. Destroyed by 1345’s flood, it was rebuilt and resisted against all odds, even to the World War II.
People say that Ponte Vecchio was spared by the Nazis during the German bombing in 1944 because its extraordinary beauty conquered Hitler’s heart during his visit in 1938, when, together with Mussolini, he visited Florence in search of alliances. Mussolini even had two large windows opened in the center of Ponte Vecchio so that Hitler could admire the west panorama of the Arno River.
There is a certain beauty in this thought, but the truth is that Gerhard Wolf, the German representative in Florence, was the true savior of Ponte Vecchio – you can read a plaque on the bridge in honor of him. Anyways, Ponte Vecchio stood up while all the access areas to the bridge were heavily damaged and then rebuilt in the 1950s. Actually, for many years the Vasari Corridor was the only way to move from North to South of the city.
Talking about the Vasari Corridor… it was built in 1565, under the order of the newly-Grand Duke of Firenze, Cosimo I de ‘Medici. Afraid of the rejection of the population – yes, it is an old worry of politicians – he asked the architect Giorgio Vasari, who also designed the Uffizi, to build a raised corridor linking the Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti, where the Medici lived. This way, the family could go to one place to another without facing the population. And he was in a hurry: the Vasari Corridor was built in just 5 months!
Gold instead of trash
Ponte Vecchio has hosted all kinds of shops since the 13th century, including the “beccai”, the ancient butchers, and the greengrocers, because they could discharge their waste directly into the Arno. But it was not fancy enough for Ferdinand I – and certainly did not have the best of the smells – who in 1593 decreed that only goldsmiths and jewelers were allowed to have their shops on the bridge, in order to improve the wellbeing of all.
Love, art and history
In the center of the bridge, with its back to the Arno, stands a statue of Benvenuto Cellini, a great artist of the sixteenth century whose masterpiece most known is the “Perseus with the Head of Medusa”, that can be found in the Loggia dei Lanzi, in Piazza della Signoria.
From time to time, you can see some padlocks on the grids that surround the statue, symbolizing the unbreakable love of the couples who have been there. Passing on Ponte Vecchio, specially at night, is, by the way, an extremely romantic walk. A perfect spot for declaring your love, over and under a path of history, with a breathtaking view of Florence. If even the Fuhrer fell for it, why wouldn’t you?