5 fun history facts about Ponte Vecchio Bridge, Florence Italy

Florence, Italy

5 Fun History Facts about Ponte Vecchio Bridge, you might not have known.

It is one of the great icons of Florence and considered to be one of the most famous bridges in the world. The Ponte Vecchio Bridge (meaning “Old Bridge”), is a medieval stone three-arch bridge over the Arno River with shops built along it. Butchers initially occupied these shops but now jewellers, art dealers and souvenir sellers fill them. The picturesque bridge has gone hand in hand with the Florentine people and the development of the city across the centuries, meaning there are many stories to be told about Ponte Vecchio bridge. 

Standing on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, looking at the reflection on the water of the Corridoio

Here are 5 fun history facts to help get you started on your journey over Ponte Vecchio Bridge.

1- Not the Original Bridge

Anyone who has ever visited Florence would have seen or crossed the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, over the Arno river exploring the many shops that line it. However, this is not the original bridge or shops that stand here today. It is believed that the original bridge was built by the Romans in 996 from stone and wood. Then it was destroyed twice (1117 & 1333) by the many floods that use to frequently swept through Florence.

The apartments alongside the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, Florence

The current bridge was designed by Taddeo Gaddi and rebuilt in 1345 to withstand being destroyed by the floods. He had the arch’s lowered which meant they used fewer pillars and allow for the heavy water and debris to flow underneath the bridge more freely. This seemed to have worked because in 1966  when a catastrophic flood hit the city again, only the shops were damaged but the pillars survived being hit by the large debris carried by the flood water.

The central part of the Ponte Vecchio bridge, Florence

2 – Bridge shops rented out to recoup money used

To recoup some of the money that was spent on rebuilding the bridge after completion, the Florence government decided to rent out the shops that were built on Ponte Vecchio bridge. The previous shops that occupied the bridge were originally built of wood and would easily catch fire. So, when they rebuilt the bridge they used stone for the shops.

At first, the shops were rented out to butchers, however, this made the area on and around the Ponte Vecchio Bridge extremely dirty creating unpleasant conditions. To enforce the prestige of the bridge again, in 1593 it was prohibited for butchers to sell from there and were kicked out. Their place was immediately taken over by gold merchants, which is still what currently occupies the shops today alongside art dealers and souvenir sellers.

Walking across the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, admiring the flags above the shops

 3  – A Kink in the Corridor

The Vasari Corridor is an elevated enclosed pathway that goes from Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti, crossing over the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. It was created so the Grand Duke could move freely between his residence and the government palace.

The addition of the Vasari Corridor changed the character of bridge considerably. There were originally four towers guarding the entrances to the Ponte Vecchio bridge. When the corridor was built, one family refused to tear their tower down, so Vasari was forced to build a “detour” to go around it. The Mannelli tower can still be seen on the south side of the Arno today.

The Mannelli tower with the corridor going around it

 4 – Adolf Hitler was a fan

Benito Mussolini wanted his guest of honour Adolf Hitler to admire the view of Florence from the Vasari Corridor during his State Visit in 1939. So he had the original three windows in the centre of the bridge made into one large viewing gallery for this benefit.

It may be just as well he did because legend has it that this view convinced Hitler and his German officers to spare the Ponte Vecchio bridge being destroyed during their 1944 retreat. Instead, only reduced the buildings at both ends of the bridge to rubble, in order to block the streets and went on to destroy all the other bridges in the city, during the end of World War II.

The shop windows on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, Florence

5 – The Lockers of Love – A tribute to the art of goldsmithing

The bronze bust that you see on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge is of Benvenuto Cellini. The statue was erected in 1901 to commemorate the 400th birthday of the Florentine goldsmith. He was a master goldsmith, sculptor, musician and artist (amongst other things). His statue is there to watch over the glittering windows of these prestigious shops.

Legend has it that if you and your loved one attach a padlock to any surface of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge and then throw away the key into the Arno River, then you will have eternal love. This became so popular that the overabundance of padlocks gave the bridge a gaudy appearance and the government had to resort to having them removed.

Padlocks on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, Florence

However, for a period of time when they continued removing the padlocks, they kept on multiplying. So, the government introduce a hefty penalty to anyone who was caught locking anything to the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. Today, lovers simply come to the famous bridge to touch the remaining padlocks that are attached to the fence around the statue of Benvenuto Cellini, hoping they can to have eternal love.

Admiring the Ponte Vecchio Bridge from afar, Florence

Please feel free to share your experience in the comments below or if you know any other facts about the bridge. I would love to hear them 🙂

Me on one of the bridges across the Arno, Florence

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53 Comments

  1. First I came to know of Ponte Vecchio Bridge from Dan Brown’s Inferno!!! Then when I finally made it to Florence, I managed to see from another bridge and from Uffizi Gallery! I didn’t know of points 4 & 5, rest I knew! So thanks for the new info! 🙂

  2. Very meaningful post. So often, we pass through destinations without fully understanding it. It is always good to have some background knowledge while visiting a place. Every place has so much history if we care to learn. My favourite trivia was the bit on Adolf Hitler. Amusing!

  3. I loved this! This is just the kind of post I search for when I’m in a city wanting more info about something so I hope many people find your post! I knew NONE of these facts, ashamedly. I think I must have been so taken aback by its beauty and involved in taking photos that I must have overlooked researching it!

    1. I am glad that you like it Alex. I like doing posts like this because I love learning and writing about history especially about buildings. I notice now when I go back to places that I take things in even more about a place.

  4. Really interesting post Mel – I really wanted to take a tour of the Vasari Corridor when I was in Florence last summer but it was sooooo expensive! Its a fascinating bridge and one that was lucky to survive WW2.

    1. I am trying to think but I don’t remember going into the Vasari Corridor either, I had a look at my pictures and I have known from in there. I think the whole Italian history, in general, is so fascinating.

  5. First time I’ve found your blog…it’s a breath of fresh air in the travel blog arena! Very cool story about the bridge, especially the kink in the corner!

  6. Ah the old love bridge legens. It seems that every city has one of these. Even my home town of Melbourne which isn’t that old compared to the European cities!

    I had no idea that Hitler had visited and that windows were changed for his personal pleasure!

    1. I am originally from Melbourne also but been in London for 13yrs now. Yes, Melbourne has some great history to but I am taken back how young it is compared to other places in the world.

  7. Interesting to know these facts about the famed bridge. Unfortunately, during our visit to Florence, we missed walking on the bridge because it was terribly crowded and we couldn’t imagine pushing our baby stroller through it. The bridge and the views from the bridge look awe-inspiring. Good to know that Hitler spared the bridge and changed his mind about destroying it for us to marvel at it today.

    1. Oh that is unfortunate that you didn’t get to go over the bridge but I completely understand why you didn’t. I would not want to push stroller across, I would struggle to walk across. Hopefully you get to go back one day.

  8. The bridge locks have really come up across the world now. I have to say that although they photograph beautifully, I personally have never understood the charm of it. Still, interesting to see the government take action against people who do this.

    Beautifully written and detailed post. Loved the photos and the breakdown of all the points.

    Often I have found that many of the famous bridges and monuments aren’t “original” as is the case here, but they are still fascinating and come with so much history that they still are so very special.

  9. I was in Florence for a short day trip, but didn’t manage to go across the Ponte Vecchio bridge. I didn’t know any of these facts before reading this post. Interesting that Hitler would spare this bridge because he was once treated to its’ views. I imagine having butchers occupying the space beforehand would have been quiet unsanitary and fill up the place with odd smells. Thanks for sharing.

  10. This is really interesting! I have always wanted to visit Florence, I really love Italy but haven’t made it there yet. I hope I can make it there to check out the Ponte Vecchio bridge myself some day. Thanks for sharing.

  11. This bridge is no doubt an icon of Florence. It was nice to learn a few facts and trivia about this bridge. I wouldn’t be surprised about the re-building process – it has been around for such a long time so it probably wouldn’t endure! I hope to capture it and see this bridge myself one of these days. Love exploring sites with so many stories to tell!

  12. I’ve never visited Florence before, but this is certainly a very interesting piece of history about the city! That’s very interesting that Mussolini convinced Hitler to save the bridge, even though he demolished shops at the end of the bridge! It’s also interesting to see how the bridge has withstood floods too since the 14th century! What an incredible (and beautiful) feat of engineering!

  13. This makes me miss Italy so much! I only knew one of these five facts, so I found this all fascinating! It really is one of my favorite bridges in the world. I had no idea it had been destroyed before and it wasn’t the original bridge.

  14. Florence is truly beautiful as I can see. It is more or less one of the few bigger Italian cities I haven’t seen yet, but after seeing your impressions I would definitely like to see it! Of course the Ponte Vecchio Bridge looks really impressive and its history sounds also very interesting. I try to imagine how this looked (and smelled) like when it was rented out to butchers…

    1. Apparently, it smelt really bad when the butchers were on there and I think it would have been even worse during the summer periods. Glad to know that it is goldsmith shops now.

  15. That was a great read, and I agree that the locks can be a problem since their weight could damage the bridge – that was the case at the Pont Neuf in Paris. We loved visiting Ponte Vecchio, so atmospheric!

  16. omg I have visited like 4 times and didn’t know any of these! Very fun interesting facts! Thank you for sharing girlie and keep up the awesome posts!

  17. Your pictures are stunning! Some of those shots with the lake and the buildings reflecting are just perfect! Florence is high on my bucket list and this post reminded me why! thanks for sharing 🙂

  18. I visited Florence this January and also saw the Ponte Vecchio Bridge as well. It’s my favorite spot in Florence, but I didn’t know about these facts xD! So useful post to help me understanding more about this bridge!

  19. I have never been to Florence so this bridge is not too familiar to me. I am dying to visit though and it is cool to have some background information 🙂 Though I cannot give any additional information I am totally into bridges but except for the Rialto Bridge in Venice I mostly know the bigger ones like Brooklyn Bridge (by the way, great pics).

    1. You can’t miss it if you ever go to Florence and it is one of the main ways to get across the river 🙂 I love bridges to and it always amazes me how much history are behind them.

  20. This is such an informative post! Thanks for covering all the wonderful facts about this bridge. I loved the one about the locks and Adolf Hitler – Glad that the bridge was saved in the WW II.

  21. What a beautiful bridge and beautiful city! Really interesting facts – I thought the one about how Hitler spared this bridge because he liked it so much was fascinating. Thanks for sharing!

  22. I’ve been to the bridge but didn’t know this much history. It’s really cool and I’m glad the current one has been able withstand flooding!

  23. I’m visiting Florence this October and didn’t know about the Ponte Veccio. Your pictures with the reflection are perfect, I hope the river is calm when I visit! The little fact about the window being expanded for Hitler is very interesting. I wonder if all the couples who left lovelocks on the bridge broke up after they were removed?

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