About Ponte Vecchio
The Ponte Vecchio (literally meaning Old Bridge) is one of Florence’s most famous tourist attractions and the oldest bridge in the city. It is known for the collection of jewellery shops which span its length and is now a massive draw for visitors.
History of the Ponte Vecchio
The first bridge constructed on the site was built in Roman times, and the following centuries saw several iterations as a mix of time and disaster took their toll. The current bridge dates from 1345 – previous iterations were swept away in floods – and was at least in part designed by the architect Taddeo Gaddi.
In 1565, Cosimo de Medici had the Vasari Corridor built, part of which runs above the Ponte Vecchio, in order to connect the Palazzo Vecchio (Florence’s town hall) and the Palazzo Pitti, the home of the Medici family who ruled Florence at that time.
The Ponte Vecchio has always housed shops and merchants, but it’s though that it only became the home of the jewellery industry in the city after Ferdinand I did away with the butchers and grocers who occupied it in 1595, allegedly because he didn’t like the smell. It has housed shops and merchants for its whole history. Back shops were added in the 17th century.
The bridge is the only one in the city not to have been destroyed by the Nazis during their retreat in 1944: legend would have it Hitler expressly forbade its destruction because of the history surrounding it.
The Ponte Vecchio today
The Ponte Vecchio remains a focal point in Florence, and attracts thousands of tourists every year. It is still home to glittering jewellers and metal-wear shops, and is often heaving with people. In more recent years, padlocks (‘love locks’) have been the biggest danger facing the bridge. The gesture of placing a padlock on an old bridge is supposed to symbolise everlasting love but the weight of the metal has the potential to cause structural damage and there’s a heavy fine for anyone found doing so today.
Getting to the Ponte Vecchio
It’s hard to miss the Ponte Vecchio on a trip to Florence – you’ll cross it even if you’re not looking for it. It’s the closest bridge to the Uffizi, and is just north of the Boboli Gardens. Florence is a city that can only really be explored on foot (or by motorbike, if you’re feeling particularly Italian).