Spanning the Arno River at its narrowest point, the “old bridge” is as storied as it is picturesque (and overrun with crowds).
First documented in the late 10th century, the bridge was destroyed by flooding in 1177, 1333 and narrowly avoided being swept away during the flood of 1966. The current structure dates from 1345.
Ponte Vecchio was the sole bridge in Florence to be left intact by retreating Germans in 1944. Conflicting stories say this was either due to Hitler’s direct orders or a commander disobeying Hitler’s direct orders. Either way, the city on both sides of the bridge was devastated.
The space under the porticos was originally lined with butcher and fishmonger shops, whose practice of flinging rotting leftovers into the river offended the nose of Ferdinando I de’ Medici so much that he ran them off, replacing them with goldsmiths. The singular “back shops” (retrobotteghe) were added in the 17th century. Today these spaces house upscale jewelry shops and art dealers.