The Ponte Vecchio
The Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is found in Florence, Italy and spans over the narrowest point of the Arno River. The bridge is made of wood and stone and dates back to the Roman era. It is about 32 meters wide (105 feet) and spans about 30 meters (98 feet) in length. Due to flooding, the bridge underwent at least two reconstructions. It is quite well preserved because the bridge is held up by segment arches that prevent the road above from bowing.
Our favorite daily event was to walk to this bridge. It has spectacular views down the Arno River but it is just a great place to people watch and enjoy the surroundings. One of the best times of day is in the evening when the sun is setting and you can take beautiful photographs.
A Bit Of History
Originally in 1345, there were 43 shops along the bridge that were rented to merchants and artisans. In the 1400s, grocers, fishmongers and butchers populated the bridge. This produced a lot of unpleasant orders and it was Grand Duke Ferdinand 1 to evict these merchants and substitute them with goldsmiths and silversmiths. Due to this change, the Ponte Vecchio was transformed with its wooden doorways and shop windows with jewels into the bridge we know today.
By the end of the fifteenth century, the shops were sold to private owners. In addition, the law at the time did not allow the new owners to build on the pavement of the bridge so the individual buildings were extended over the river and held up by wooden stakes and appear as if they are suspended in mid-air.
While the Germans spared the bridge during the war in 1944, it was the catastrophic flood of November 1966 that almost brought the Ponte Vecchio down. It was truly feared that the bridge would collapse as the raging waters of the Arno seems to be relentless. It is said that some large tree trunks pierced through some shops on the upstream side of the river. But this well-built bridge survived and is an amazing sight not to be missed; especially at sunset.
Here is a video clip from a movie shown in Santa Croce Church showing the devastating flood of November 1966: