Even before the construction of the present Ponte Vecchio, there has 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.
There is some uncertainty about who actually designed the current 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.
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.
In 1565, the Grand Duke Cosimo I, of the de' Medici Family, ordered that a special corridor be built on top of the already-existing buildings on the bridge: rather like an upper storey running along it.
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.
De' Medici Family Coat of Arms
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 GiorgioVasari:
The shops of Il Ponte Vecchio were butchers, fishmongers and tanners working with animal skins to make leather.
These trades certainly did not produce pleasant smells - especially in the hot summer. Even the water of the river must have been unpleasant because the workers on the bridge would simply throw their unwanted bits into the river below. The smell must have been terrible!
When the family of Cosimo I walked across their private upper-storey corridor they found that the smells from the shops below were just too bad. So, they changed the rules! From now on, only goldsmiths and jewellers could trade on Il Ponte Vecchio. No more people working with animal skins and meat!
At last, the de' Medici family could walk happily across the bridge without having to suffer from any horrible odours! And the jewellers and goldsmiths still exist as the traditional traders on the bridge today!
Some Italian vocabulary: la gioielleria = the jewellery shop un gioielliere = a jeweller l'oreficeria = the goldsmith's shop un orafo = a goldsmith
The shopkeepers on Il Ponte Vecchio traditionally used to place a stall outside their shop in order to display their goods in the open air. This stall was known as a unbanco. Whenever one of the shopkeepers fell behind with payment of rent or other bills, soldiers would arrive and break the poor shopkeeper's stall! 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 Italian words for 'broken stall' you have 'banco rotto'. In modern Italian, bancarotta means 'bankrupt.' In other words, the idea of becoming bankrupt began on Il Ponto Vecchio when poor traders with debts had their stalls broken!
A FAMOUS PIECE OF ITALIAN OPERA: from the opera Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini.
The story takes place in Florence.
A girl called Lauretta is pleading with her father to give his permission for her to marry the man she loves. She sings that, if he does not give his permission, she will jump off il Ponte Vecchio into the River Arno!
Click on the button to hear the famous aria. It is called O Mio Babbino Caro
(Oh My Dear Daddy) and here it is sung by Maria Callas. BRAVISSIMA!