Florence sits astride the river Arno and for centuries people have lived on both sides and reached one another by crossing its bridges.
The Etruscans, as early as the 7th century BC, probably had either a bridge or a ferry near the present day Ponte Vecchio. The first documentation of a bridge appears in 996 and notes a wood and stone structure at the point where the Roman city street, via Cassia, crossed the river. Today there are 9 bridges crossing the Arno in urban Florence. I will talk about the historic bridges of Florence: Ponte Vecchio and 3 of bridges on either side of it, 2 to the east: Ponte Santa Trinita and Ponte alla Carraia and 1 to the west: Ponte alle Grazie.
The Ponte Vecchio, old bridge, is the oldest surviving bridge in Florence and has existed in one form or another since Roman times as noted above. Repeated floods destroyed the bridge many times, but it was always rebuilt. Today’s version dates from a reconstruction in 1345 as noted by Giorgio Visari.
There have been shops on the Ponte Vecchio since the 13th century. Merchants, authorized by the Bargello, would display their wares on tables before their premises. Initially, the shops were primarily butchers and fishmongers and later tanners. These shopkeepers were evicted in 1593 because of the pollution and foul smell they created and since that time, by decree, only jewellers and goldsmiths are allowed commercial space.
The most recent addition to the Ponte Vecchio was the Vasari Corridor in 1565. The corridor connects the Uffizi with the Pitti Palace and crosses the river atop the shops on the bridge. The corridor was commissioned by Cosimo di Medici to facilitate his commute from home to office. Giorgio Vasari was the architect.
The Ponte Vecchio, a favorite of Hitler, was the only Florentine bridge not destroyed by the retreating Germans in 1944. However, to deny the Allies access to the crossing, the medieval buildings at either end of the bridge were completed demolished.
The Ponte Vecchio’s latest challenge was the devastating flood of 1966. The bridge’s shops were all destroyed, but the structure by some miracle held.
PONTE SANTA TRINITA
Ponte Santa Trìnita, Holy Trinity Bridge, is the first bridge to the east of the Ponte Vecchio. Like the Ponte Vecchio, Ponte Santa Trinita has a long, Florentine history. The first bridge at this site was built in the 1250s. but again, like the Ponte Vecchio was swept away and rebuilt many times. The current design, 3 compressed ellipses, is the work of Bartolomeo Ammanati who created the bridge between 1567 and 1569 making it the oldest elliptical bridge in existence. Statues representing the four seasons adorning each corner of the bridge were added in 1608 to commemorate the wedding of Cosimo de’Medici and Maria Magdalena of Austria.
The German army destroyed the bridge on August 8, 1944. The bridge was rebuilt, faithful to the Ammanati design in 1958 using original material salvaged from the river and new material from the original source, the Boboli Garden, where a quarry was reopened to complete the project. The bridge was reconstructed to its original design with the exception of Spring’s missing head. Fortunately, the head was found in the river in 1961 and reattached to Spring’s body.
PONTE ALLA CARRAIA
Ponte alla Carraia is the next bridge to the east after Ponte Santa Trinita. The first mention of a bridge at this site is 1218. Like the other Florentine Arno bridges, Ponte alla Carraia was destroyed by floods and rebuilt many times. The current Ponte alla Carraia was completed in 1948 to replace the bridge destroyed by the retreating German army in August of 1944. It is a 5 span segmental arch bridge.
PONTE ALLE GRAZIE
The first bridge at the site of Ponte alle Grazie was built in 1227. In 1345, a nine arch bridge replaced it, but it was soon modified with arches reduced to 7 when 2 were filled to create a wider Piazza dei Mozzi. The retreating Germans destroyed the bridge in August 1944. Ponte alle Grazie is a bridge over the Arno River in Florence, Italy. Rather than recreate the prior bridge, a competition was held for a new design. The winning design features four slender piers and 5 reinforced concrete, arches between them completed in 1953.