The oldest bridge in Florence, Ponte Vecchio opened in 1345 and countless visitors continue to cross it today. A timeless symbol of the city, the original Roman crossing stood here as the only bridge over the Arno River until 1218, with the current bridge rebuilt following a flood. While we know that the bridge was constructed as part of a system of defense, it’s a mystery as to who designed it, though evidence points to Dominican friars, who had an excellent sense of harmony, proportion and use of numbers.
It’s easy to imagine the early residents of Florence bustling about Ponte Vecchio, with shops here since the 13th century, from fishmongers and tanners to butchers. The latter once tossed foul-smelling waste right into the river, causing a stench that led Ferdinand I to decree in 1583 that only jewelers and goldsmiths could have shops on the bridge.
Remarkably, Ponte Vecchio is Florence’s only bridge that managed to survive World War II, with all the others bombed and destroyed. Today, it’s a lively spot packed with tourists. By arriving just before dawn, you can enjoy serene magical views of the river and a colorful sunrise without the crowds. After dark, the shops’ wooden shutters create a look of wooden chests and suitcases that make it especially inviting for an evening stroll. Another perspective can be enjoyed underneath, through the occasional concert, theater presentations and boat rides.
Benito Mussolini changed the three windows in the center of the bridge to one large window in 1939 so Adolf Hitler could admire the view during his visit. This may have saved the bridge from demolition during World War II. When the Germans retreated, they destroyed all the nearby bridges. Ponte Vecchio was not destroyed. Instead, only the buildings at the ends were knocked down to block the path of Allied forces.
The bronze statue found on the bridge is of Benvenuto Cellini. He was a master goldsmith and artist from Florence. The statue was put up in 1901 to celebrate his 400th birthday.