Shop on the Ponte Vecchio; it truly is a one-of-a-kind experience!
(Photo By: HarshLight)
Shopping At the Ponte Vecchio | Italy’s Treasure Chest
Many moons ago, bridges often served two purposes: 1) they got you over water; 2) they had shops built in them. Located in Florence, Italy’s Ponte Vecchio is an extremely rare find, because it is the only remaining medieval bridge in the world with shopping built into it. That’s right! You can shop in the Ponte Vecchio while you’re crossing over the Arno River, so let’s go!
Ponte Vecchio’s History
The history of The Ponte Vecchio is pretty amazing. It has been rebuilt three times and survived World War II. The original bridge, built where the Ponte Vecchio now spans, dates back to Ancient Rome. A description of a wooden bridge supported by stone pillars was initially documented in 996. Unfortunately, a flood destroyed the original structure in 1117, but this didn’t stop the Italians – we’re a determined bunch – from rebuilding a bridge in the same location… which was also destroyed by flood in 1333!
The second bridge was built primarily of stone, and two of its piers did survive the 1333 flood. In 1345, the Ponte Vecchio was once again erected above water. Although it has never been confirmed and is disputed by many scholars, rumor has it that the third incarnation of the bridge was designed by Giotto’s star pupil Taddeo Gaddi, a medieval painter and architect in his own right.
The Ponte Vecchio, as we know it today, is classified as a “stone closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge.” Say that three times fast! It has three arches, with the center arch spanning 98 feet, and each side arch spanning 88 feet. The arches boast a highest point of between 11.5 and 14.5 feet, and the Ponte Vecchio is the only bridge in Florence that survived German destruction in World War II. Whether Hitler or German Consulate Gerhard Wolf saved the bridge no one knows, we’re just glad it wasn’t bombed like the rest of them.
Shopping at the Ponte Vecchio
The Ponte Vecchio has been home to shops across its span since the 13th century. Merchants would sell their goods on tables after receiving approval to do so from the proper authorities. Merchants who fell into economic despair would face a “bancorotto,” which translated means “table broken.” Soldiers would literally break the table upon which the merchants sold their ware, effectively shutting down their business. We know this act today as declaring bankruptcy.
The original shops in the Ponte Vecchio were butcher shops, fishmongers, and tanners. At first, this made sense, because the Arno River provided the perfect disposal means for the unused animal carcasses… not good! Of course, the stench from the decaying animals made the Ponte Vecchio a place nobody wanted to be near, so Grand Duke Ferdinando de’ Medici, who ruled over Tuscany from 1587 to 1609, said sufficiente! – “that’s enough!” and I don’t really know if he actually said that, I’m just having fun – and kicked the butchers out and brought the gold dealers in.
Jewelers still make up a majority of the Ponte Vecchio shops today. In fact, some of Florence’s best jewelers sell their masterpieces on this medieval bridge. If you don’t want to invest in fine jewelry while crossing the Arno on this historic structure, you can also browse through some art studios and, of course, souvenir shops. You simply have to buy something from a Ponte Vecchio merchant! Millions of people flock to this unique piece of architecture each year to do just that, and you don’t want to be left out!