Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy

The Ponte Vecchio is a medieval stone bridge that spans the narrowest point of the River Arno in Florence. It is located on the site of an ancient Roman bridge that enabled an important road, the “Via Cassia,” to cross the river. The first documented evidence of a bridge appears in 996. It was a wooden superstructure on stone piers. This bridge and a subsequent replacement were swept away by flood waters in 1177 and 1333. The bridge was rebuilt in 1345. The design, credited to Taddeo Gaddi, consists of segmented, closed-spandrel arches. There were towers situated on the four corners. Their role was to defend the bridge. Only one tower remains, situated on the southeast corner. The owners of this tower, the Torre dei Mannelli, refused to alter its design. This forced the Medici family to construct the elevated Vasari Corridor around it on brackets. The tower was damaged during the Second World War and restored in 1946 by Nello Baroni. The Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge across the River Arno that was not destroyed by retreating German forces. Historians believe that Hitler, who visited the bridge in 1939, gave the order to allow the bridge to remain intact.Ponte Vechio, Florence, Italy

The bridge is noted for the shops that line its path. The lord mayor authorized merchants to exhibit their products on tables in front of their businesses. There are unverified stories that the concept of bankruptcy originated on this bridge. When a merchant couldn’t afford to remain in business, soldiers broke his table or “”bancorotto.” This action prevented the merchant from selling his goods and forced him out of business. In the early days, the shops were predominantly butchers. When the Vasari Corridor was constructed, city officials removed these businesses in 1564 to prevent their odors from entering the passageway. Goldsmiths took their places. Today, most of the businesses that line the bridge are art dealers, curio shops and descendents of the original goldsmiths.

Ponte Vecchio and its statuary are the focal point of a recent tradition in which an individual attaches a padlock along the bridge or the Benvenuto Cellini statue. This is a symbolic gesture that the person who closes the lock and tosses the key into the river is forever bonded to his true love or to the city of Florence.


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