The famed Ponte Vecchio medieval stone bridge in city of Florence
Of particular interest to both Bob and me when we visited Florence, Italy, was the famed medieval stone bridge known as Ponte Vecchio.
This arched bridge spans River Arno at its narrowest point where the original Roman bridge first stood in 996.
Despite being severely damaged from raging floodwaters on several occasions, it is the fact that Hitler ordered the bridge left untouched when retreating near the end of WWII that aided in the structure surviving the ravages of time.
(Above photo: “Scenes in Florence, Italy, August 14, 1944″, taken by Capt.T
In its first incarnation, Ponte Vecchio was designed as a fortified bridge since attacks by enemy factions often took place from the river.
The original four towers and walls topped by battlements were eventually replaced in the 1500s, and that is when shopkeepers cut windows into the superstructure and began building their shops outwards and upwards. The enlarged shops were supported by timber braces called sporti.
The sheer whimsy of the bridge is the fact that retail shops still today occupy the length of the span much as it used to host butcher shops and fish mongers. Even tanners had been allowed to set up shop until the stench from the industrial waste inspired Ferdinand I to mandate new laws.
A stroll across Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence, had us coming face to face with throngs of tourists keen to spend their money in the goldsmiths’ and jewelers’ shops.
Since 1593, those are the only businesses allowed to operate on the bridge for the betterment of the water and air quality. Propped open during the hours of business were the wooden shutters that are still employed to secure the spaces at night.
For Bob and me, seeing Ponte Vecchio was akin to finally visiting Pont Neuf in Paris. The stories of this iconic bridge and references to it in historical writings or even fictional drama would never be the same again. It is just so quaint and soaked in nostalgia.