The Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is the most famous bridge in Florence, as well as the oldest one. It is located in the Florentine district of Oltrarno which means “beyond the Arno”.
It is believed that former it was a stone bridge constructed by the Romans around the year 980, over the ruins of an Etruscan one. It was planned as a road bridge over the Arno River in the widest point of its course in Florence.
In 1177 the bridge was destroyed by a flood. After being reconstructed, another terrible flood ruined it in1333.
Its definitive reconstruction comes from 1345. Depending of the historical sources its rebuilding is attributed to either Taddeo Gaddi or Neri di Fioravante. Probably, the design was created by Gaddi while the engineering and architectonical works were carried on by Fioravante.
Giorgio Vasari, who has been one of the most important architects and art historians from the Renaissance in Italy, assign its design to Taddeo Gaddi.
There are not exact indications about the place and dates of born and death of the well-known Italian Gothic architect Neri di Fioravante. Even so, it is known that he was active from 1340 to 1380 ca. The more celebrated works where he was involved in Florence were: the Chiesa di Orsanmichele, the Chiesa di San Carlo dei Lombardi, the Chiesa di Santa Trinità -from 1360 to 1362, in collaboration with Benci di Cione and Francesco Talento - and in the first project intended to the building of the Cupola of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.
Giorgio Vasari attributed as well to Fioravante the enlargement, in 1340, of Palazzo Bargello.
Nonetheless, it is known that the celebrated Gothic painter Taddeo Gaddi was born in Florence in 1300 ca. and died, also in Florence, in 1366 ca. He had been a brilliant disciple of the most famous Giotto and started his artistic career as an assistant to him. Taddeo Gaddi is believed, after Giotto’s death (1337), as the leading painter in Florence for almost three decades. Among his numerous artworks, the most outstanding probably are: the stained glass windows representing the Stigmatization of S. Francis and the series of frescoes depicting the life of Jesus, all of them executed in the Baroncelli Chapel (Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence); “La Natività” (Museum Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid); “L’Adorazione dei Magi”(Accademia Gallery, Florence); “Madonna in Trono con Bambino, Apostoli e Profeti “, “S. Francesco risuscita un fanciullo” and “Pentocoste”(all three in the Gemaeldegalerie, Berlin); “Le Storie di Giobbe” (in the Cemetery of Pisa); “La Madonna con il Bambino in Trono e angeli” (Uffizi Gallery, Florence); “S. Eligio dinanzi al Re Clotario” and “S. Eligio nella bottega dell’orefice”( both of the panels in the Prado Museum, Madrid).
The Ponte Vecchio was the first segmental arch bridge built in Europe in the middle Ages.
The bridge is shaped of three segmental arches. Their dimensions are: the span of the central one is of 30 m., while the ones of the two laterals arches are of 27 m. each. The rise is of 3.9 and 4.4 m, respectively. The largeness of the deck is of 32 m.
The Ponte Vecchio has always been inhabited. Once it hosted butchers, tanners and blacksmiths workshops. The ancient structures have external peculiar features. They overhang the Arno River supported by solid timber brackets.
At the ending of the 16th century, Ferdinando I de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, forced them to leave the bridge, due to the row and the disgusting odour originated by their workshops.
As more of the craftsmen refused to accept the order, the authorities sent there the soldiers to damage the workshops - a grand part of them were set in the dwellings of the craftsmen - and to break the trading banks. Because of that most of them went into bankruptcy (from the Italian “banca rotta” which means “broken bank”) as they had no other place to work and sell their merchandises.
As a result, the silversmiths, goldsmiths and drapers took their place on the Ponte Vecchio changing the former workshops into cosy shops, which along the centuries developed into the pretty jewelleries and shops currently in being.
In 1900, a bust of the celebrated Florentine goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571) was set on the deck of the Ponte Vecchio, nearby its central arch.
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Oltrarno Side of Florence
The Cathedrals : Basilica di San Miniato al Monte, Cappella Brancacci, Santo Spirito
Main Monuments : Palazzo Pitti, Piazzale Michelangelo, Ponte Vecchio
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