Symbol of Florence in the world, Ponte Vecchio is one of the most illustrious landmarks of the city.
Even Hitler admired it and it was not destroyed by the Germans during their retreat in 1944, unlike all the other bridges, because of an order given by Hitler himself. The story goes that Hitler was so fascinated by the sight of the town from Vasari’s corridor, running over the bridge, during his state visit in 1938, that he decided to spare it.
But let’s go back in history.
The bridge dates back in Roman times, it was the first one to be built in Florence, before Ponte alla Carraia, and that’ s why it is called Ponte Vecchio, Old Bridge in English.
Until the 1300s the bridge underwent two reconstructions, due to the floods. Then, it was rebuilt in 1345 by Taddeo Gaddi, who designed it with 3 wide arches in order to let the deposits of the river, which had contributed to its collapse, flow away more easily. As a matter of fact, since then the bridge has been damaged and then repaired, but it has never been destroyed again.
The bridge is famous for its shops of goldsmiths and jewelry stores , but before 1565 the bridge, linked to Via Guicciardini, was populated by grocers, fishmongers and butchers, that used to throw the vegetable and animal waste in the river.
It is said that it was because of the noise and unpleasant odours produced by these activities, that Cosimo I de’ Medici decided to replace them with more prestigious activities, considered more suitable to a town like Florence, which was a great centre of culture and power.
Walking along the bridge we can see a really unusual clock on one of the roof: a sundial looking like a half-moon. It may seem like a broken circle, but it is its original shape.
It was placed there in 1345, as it is stated on the plate under the clock: “ In 1333 the bridge collapsed, because of the flood, and it was rebuilt twelve years later, according to the desire of the local authorities, with this decoration.” It clearly refers to the flood that, on 4th November 1933, wiped out the bridge, together with the Roman statue of Mars, which was near the bridge and that has never been found again. That date also reminds us the most recent flood, which took place on 6th November 1966.
Nowadays the bridge is also the place where couples promise eternal love by placing a lock on the gate surrounding the statue of Benvenuto Cellini, one of the most illustrious goldsmith and sculptor of Florentine Renaissance, and then throwing the keys in the river Arno, in order to make their love eternal.
This custom, probably due to soldiers spending their period of military service in Florence, started about twenty years ago, surely before the same tradition became popular on Ponte Milvio, in Rome.
It must be noticed that this custom has forced the local administrative powers to impose a 50 euros fine on anyone attaching a lock on the gate, in order to preserve the monument.
Finally, the statue of Benvenuto Cellini was made by Raffaello Romanelli and it was placed on the bridge on 26th May, 1901.