Think of Florence, Italy and you probably picture the iconic image of the Ponte Vecchio as well. This bridge is the oldest of six in Florence and one of only four in the world lined with shops. It’s believed a bridge has spanned this section of the Arno River since Roman times and the current structure was built in 1345. The Ponte Vecchio survived the destruction of World War II, the great flood of 1966 and was recently featured in a novel by Dan Brown.
|Ponte Vecchio, Florence|
In 1944, Nazi troops retreating from Florence were ordered to destroy the city’s bridges. German diplomat Gerhard Wolf fought to save the Ponte Vecchio and the crossing was instead made impassable by demolishing the buildings at each end. A plaque on the bridge recognizes Wolf for his efforts.
|Shops on the Ponte Vecchio|
In November 1966 the Arno River overflowed its banks, leaving much of Florence under water. Thirty people died in the flood and countless books, manuscripts and works of art were damaged or destroyed. But the bridge remained standing and an international rescue effort was launched to restore the city’s cultural treasures. (You can see photos and video on the Florence Flood website.)
More recently, author Dan Brown set scenes from his 2013 bestseller Inferno in Florence and makes use of a private passageway, the Vasari Corridor, which runs along the top of the bridge. It was built in 1565 by the ruling Medici family as a secure route between their offices in the Palazzo Vecchio and the Pitti Palace across the river. The butchers and tanners on the bridge were replaced by more aesthetically pleasing gold and silver shops which line the Ponte Vecchio to this day. The Vasari Corridor, which also passes through the renowned Uffizi Gallery, now houses artist self-portraits from the museum’s collection.
|The Vasari Corridor as it Exits the Uffizi Gallery|
|Ponte Vecchio Shops|
|Jewellery Shop on the Ponte Vecchio|
|The Vasari Corridor|
|The Vasari Corridor (top) and Gerhard Wolf Plaque (below right arch)|
|Wooden Door on the Ponte Vecchio|
|The View East: Morning Rowers on the Arno River|
|The View West: Ponte Santa Trinita|
When you’ve finished shopping for gold or admiring the Arno River from the bridge you may wish to stop by the nearby Mercato Nuovo, also known as the Straw Market. The loggia dates from the Renaissance period and the open air stalls are filled with colourful leather goods, scarves and souvenirs.
|Mercato Nuovo, or Straw Market|
|Straw Market Leather Goods|
Look for the Florentine equivalent to Rome’s Trevi Fountain, the bronze statue of a wild boar, on the east side of the loggia. Rub the well-worn snout of Il Porcellino and he’ll ensure your return one day to the historic city of Florence and the Ponte Vecchio.
|Make a Wish with Il Porcellino|
Next: The Tuscan Hill Town of San Gimignano