mercoledì 3 luglio 2013

The history of Ponte Vecchio

written by Ilaria Gelichi

Ponte Vecchio is one of the most famous bridges in the world and a symbol of the city of Florence. It crosses the river Arno in its narrowest part, where anciently there was a ford. During the Roman age and early Middle Ages many bridges were built and destroyed by floods, especially by the famous flood of 1333, one of the most violent. The bridge was then rebuilt with 3 arches in 1345, probably by Taddeo Gaddi or Neri di Fioravante.

As was once common Ponte Vecchio still has shops built on it, but in the past there were no jewellers. In 1442 the authorities of the city stated that all butchers should move their shops on the bridge. The purpose of this regulation was keeping the city’s streets clean and remove the butchers from the city centre, keeping them away from palaces and homes. They in fact used to throw discards and offal in the river Arno and the street they used to reach it were dirty and stinky; in this way they could throw them directly into the river without soiling the city.

In 1565 the architect Giorgio Vasari built the famous “corridoio vasariano” (Vasari’s corridor) to link Palazzo Vecchio, the political and administrative centre, to Palazzo Pitti, the Medici’s private palace. This corridor is almost 1 kilometre long (0,62 miles) and passes over the shops of Ponte Vecchio. For this reason, in 1593 Ferdinando I of the Medici family stated that all butchers should stop selling there and move from the bridge – he did not like this smelly activity under his corridor. He then replaced the butchers with gold merchants and jewellers, as we can still see nowadays.

Ponte Vecchio is the only bridge in Florence which was not destroyed by Germans during their retreat at the end of World War II. According to some sources, this happened because of an express order by Hitler (who had visited Florence and the bridge before the war) and with the help of Gerhard Wolf, the German representative in Florence. For this reason and for other merits he obtained the honorary citizenship of the city of Florence; a plate with his name was also put on the bridge.

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