This is the oldest bridge in Florence: it was first built in the Roman era. Since then it has been damaged and destroyed several times when the Arno has flooded.
After the construction of the “lungarni” – the avenues on the banks – in 1345, the bridge was rebuilt on a design by Fioravanti, with three sections supported by lowered arches, with rows of craftsmen’s shops along the sides.
It first housed the workshops of the artisans and butchers, but in the Middle Ages it became the location for goldsmiths who are still there today.
Ponte Vecchio is without doubt a symbol of Florence; on either side, there are splendid panoramic arches, while above there is the Vasarian Corridor linking Palazzo Pitti to Palazzo Vecchio.
The Corridor was built by Giorgio Vasari, commissioned by Cosimo I de’ Medici, to connect the Medici residence with Palazzo Vecchio, where the Grand Duke worked.
The shops were first occupied by butchers, leather tanners and fishmongers, but later Ferdinando I, in 1593, obliged them to be replaced by goldsmiths and jewellers, to stop unpleasant smells rising from beneath the windows of the Corridor.
When Hitler and Mussolini visited Florence in 1939, three panoramic windows were opened half way along the Vasarian Corridor.
It was not by chance that when the Nazis retreated, Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge in Florence to be spared.
The access points to the bridge were damaged, and so the Vasarian Corridor remained the only passage between north and south.
The shops on Ponte Vecchio look out onto the central passageway; there are no shops at the centre point of the bridge, to leave space for two panoramic terraces, on one of which there is a monument to the esteemed Florentine goldsmith, Benvenuto Cellini.