Il Ponte Vecchio
(The Old Bridge)
A very famous bridge in Florence.
Il Ponte Vecchio was completed in the year 1345. Its name actually means 'The Old Bridge.' It spans the River Arno in Florence (Firenze in Italian) at the narrowest spot.
It seems that even before the construction of the present Ponte Vecchio, there had always been a bridge at this part of the river. It is known that a bridge existed here as far back as ancient Roman times.
The River Arno flows into the Mediterranean Sea, at the part known as the Ligurian Sea.
If you sail along the river, heading west, after Florence you will pass the famous city of Pisa before arriving at the Mediterranean Sea (Il Mar Mediterraneo.)
There is some uncertainty about who actually designed the stone bridge. Some people believe that it was the artist Taddeo Gaddi and others say that it was the architect Neri Fioravanti.
The interesting feature of Il Ponte Vecchio is that buildings have been constructed on the bridge. These buildings are shops and houses.
Originally, London Bridge was very similar to the Ponte Vecchio because it also had shops and buildings on top of it. Old London Bridge can be compared to Il Ponte Vecchio in a famous engraving below by Claes Van Visscher.
In 1565, the Grand Duke Cosimo I (of the De'Medici Family) ordered that a special corridor should be built on top of the already-existing buildings - rather like an upper storey running across the bridge.
The corridor was designed by architect Giorgio Vasari and was intended to be used as a covered pathway running conveniently between two important buildings standing on each side of the river. The two important buildings were Il Palazzo Vecchio (the town hall of Florence) and Il Palazzo Pitti (the residence of Cosimo I). Both houses can be seen in the pictures below.
Palazzo Vecchio Palazzo Pitti
The specially built corridor is called Il Corridoio Vasariano and it was completed in just five months. Here is a self-portrait of the architect Vasari:
At first, the shops of Il Ponte Vecchio were butchers, fishmongers and tanners working with animal skins to make leather. However, when the family of Cosimo I walked across their private upper-storey corridor they found that the bad smells from the shops below were unacceptable and offensive.
So, the rules were changed. From now on, only goldsmiths and jewellers could trade on Il Ponte Vecchio so that the family could walk happily across the bridge without having to smell any horrible odours!. And the jewellers and goldsmiths still exist as the traditional traders on the bridge today!
(To hear a famous song about a girl who is asking for her father's permission to marry the man she loves and how she claims that she will jump from Il Ponte Vecchio into the River Arno if her father doesn't agree to the marriage, listen to Track 44 on the Jukebox. Click HERE. This aria is from the opera Gianni Schicchi, composed by Giacomo Puccini.)
The De' Medici Family were the ruling family in Tuscany between the 14th and 18th Centuries. In fact, they were one of the richest and most powerful families in Europe. Below is their coat of arms.
The shopkeepers on Il Ponte Vecchio traditionally used to place a table outside their shop in order to display their goods in the open air. This table was known as a banco. Whenever one of the shopkeepers fell behind with payment of rent or other bills, soldiers from Florence would arrive and break the poor shopkeeper's table! This meant that he was no longer allowed to display and sell his goods.
The word for 'broken' is 'rotto' in Italian. If you put together the words for 'broken table' you have 'banco rotto' meaning 'bankrupt.' In other words, the idea of becoming bankrupt began on Il Ponto Vecchio when poor traders had their tables broken!