Ponte Vecchio, meaning old bridge in English, dates back to 1345. It is really the oldest bridge in Florence, and it is also the only bridge that preserved its original appearance. Today Ponte Vecchio may be rightly put among the main tourist attractions of the city.
Considering that Ponte Vecchio is in the center of the old town Florence there was a bridge, at first wooden and then stone, on this place in the Roman times. The stone bridge was twice swept by floods until in 1345 Taddeo Gaddi didn’t build the stronger three-arched Ponte Vecchio that we can see today.
It is said that when the German troops left Florence in 1944, Hitler gave the order to blow up all bridges except the Ponte Vecchio. There were blown up only the buildings at the entrance and at the exit of the bridge.
The shops have been on both sides of the Ponte Vecchio since the 14 century until our days. At first, everything was sold there, including foodstuffs, but later the assortment of goods was limited to jewelry, and for over 500 years the Ponte Vecchio was the jewelry center of Florence, and even today the shops look the same as they did five hundred years ago.
On the Ponte Vecchio the showcases of jewelry shops are in the massive wooden trunks, with shutters pulled down at night, that strongly resemble ancient chests. At first, residential rooms were above the shops. Jewelers also lived there, but later they moved to more comfortable dwellings.
In the Middle Ages shops were built on the bridges of most European cities. Later, the bridges were reconstructed and shops were removed, and today there remained but few bridges with shops, for instance, the Rialto Bridge – the most famous bridge in Venice, the Krämerbrücke Bridge in Erfurt (Germany) and the Pulteney Bridge in Bath (England).
From the 16 century, after the Medici ruling in Florence moved their residence from the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the Arno, the Ponte Vecchio played an important role in Florence, as it connected the Palazzo Pitti to the rest of Florence.
Today Ponte Vecchio is included almost in every tour of Florence. All the most ancient tourist attractions of the city are located on the right bank of the Arno: Piazza Signoria, Palazzo Vecchio, and Santa Maria della Fiore Cathedral. At least as interesting tourist attractions, such as the Palazzo Pitti, the Boboli Gardens and the Piazzalle Michelangelo, are on the left bank of the river.