Friday, April 24, 2009

Ponte Vecchio- A Brief History of One of Florence’s Most Iconic Landmarks

The oldest of Florence’s six bridges, the Ponte Vecchio attracts thousands of visitors every year to marvel at this ancient landmark that dates back to Roman times. The original bridge was destroyed by a flood 1333 and was subsequently rebuilt twelve years later , however the architect that the project is attributed to is widely disputed. Some authorities claim that the bridge’s architect is Neri de Fioravante while others support the theory that the architect was in fact, Taddeo Gaddi.

The original design of the bridge included five arches while the Ponte Vecchio that exists today has three and is wider than the original. The bridge is famous for the shops that occupy its porticos or porches. These were initially owned by the Comune but in the 15th century were sold to private owners. The majority of the traders included butchers, greengrocers and fishmongers but in 1565 Ferdinando I ordered that the bridge should be cleared up and they were replaced with goldsmiths and jewellers to give the bridge a more elegant image.

The famous Vasari corridor or Corridoio Vasariano was built in 1565 under the order of Cosimo I de’ Medici who was the serving Duke of Florence at that time and is named after its designer Giorgio Vasari. This corridor links the Palazzo Vecchio and the Gli Uffizi with the Piti Palace. The motivation for the corridor was highly extravagant; it was built in 5 months to offer the Duke a means of moving freely between his residence and the Government Palace. Today the walls of the corridor are adorned with world renowned Renaissance artworks.

The Ponte Vecchio has endured numerous fires and floods, one of the worst cases on record was a flood that occurred in 1966, in which many valuable pieces of jewellery were washed away and the bridge suffered significant structural damage. During the Second World War, as the Germans retreated from the Allies, they destroyed all of the other bridges in Florence but left the Ponte Vecchio under explicit orders from Hitler, instead choosing to blockade its ends with large piles of rubble to hinder their enemy in its imminent advance.

In a city which boasts a massive wealth of attractions, the Ponte Vecchio is one of the few attractions in the city that is totally free; after all it is classed as a public byway. The most impressive views can be found from the neighbouring bridges, the Ponte Santa Trinita and the Ponte alle Grazie or by walking along the banks of the river Arno to snap that iconic shot of the bridge in its full glory.

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