Florence, Tuscany Italy
May 06 2014 Tuesday, 09:55
Dear Guest and Dear Traveler,
What a nice feeling to meet travelers like you! I am really happy to welcome you from now on at every issue of Al Dana Magazine, inviting you to different places all around the world as I do the same with my guests. Myself being a professional tour leader over three decades, a musical documentary producer, travel writer, organizing luxury travel all around the world, I have many nice stories to tell.
So please get ready now for a soul soothing travel with me to Toscana Italy, the cradle of the Early Italian and High Renaissance.
More Than A Bridge
Ponte Vecchio, vibrant with architectural history silently awaits us in the distance. If you have traveled to Florence before, I am sure that you will happily remember most of the final details I am about to cover. Well, If you plan to visit this region first time soon, this article may be a good place to start your Tuscan adventure.
My frequent trips to Tuscany always include hidden gems such as lesser known villages, off-the-beaten-path routes, rarely visited monuments that involve plenty of history or natural wonders. However, Historic City Center in Florence always is inevitably a must somewhere within the program.
Since the historic center is now a pedestrian zone, discovering many of the monuments requires a carefully planned walk. My path starts with Duomo, Battisterio just opposite the Cathedral (Santa Maria dei Fiori), then continues with Palazzo Vecchio via Via dei Calzaiuoli. Passing under the offices, literally Uffizi, I slowly take my guests to a breathtaking point by the Arno River, accompanied by a magnificent view of one of the most famous bridges in the world, Ponte Vechhio.
Except noon, almost every hour of the day offers a stunning and colorful shadow play of the waters that flow past, the bridge itself with historic Firenze (as the Italians call the city) at the background.
After everyone is happy with their hundreds of photos and selfies, we start walking along the Arno River ‘Lungarno degli Archibusieri’. As we get closer to this covered or ‘closed’ stone bridge, excitement prevails. I appear on the stage, in front of dozens of curious eyes: They are all ears.
Graceful, Sombre And Silent
Standing right at the Norhern entrance, this is the best time to have a little bit of Etymology first. Finer details may follow afterwards. The word ‘Ponte’ is a ‘Bridge’ in Italian Language, while ‘Vecchio’ means ‘old’. Not suprisingly, this ‘Old Bridge’ is clearly recognizable and distinguishable among the the others, being the only one with shops built on it. Some of these has ‘backshops’, called ‘retrobotteghe’ that still hosts merchants today. What a beautiful example of an arch bridge dating from medieval times…
Located at the narrowest point of the Arno River, the construction of the first bridge goes back to Roman times. Florentia had the advantage of being on ‘Via Cassia’, one of the Legendary Roman Roads. This one was the major route that connected Rome to Northern Territories at that time, initiating the growth of Florence first as a commercial hub, and a cultural center later on.
Though this first bridge was documented in the late 900’s, it was destroyed during a flood as the construction was only strong enough to stand on its weak stone piers with a wooden superstructure on the top. Rebuilt in stone, another unfortunate strong flood in 1333 swept away almost everything yet again leaving only two of the central piers behind. The final reconstruction in 1345 is considered to be the work of the architect Taddeo Gaddi or Neri di Fioravanti. The arches were once again occupied by shops and merchants just after the re-opening, as the history repeated itself.
Just a small note here: Butchers were the first trade guild that operated the shops. To start a business on the bridge was a tough process as it required a special permission from ‘Barghello’, the Mayor in charge of keeping peace and order in town.
Rare Historic Covered Bridges Around The World
Bridges covered by shops? Well, even a frequent traveler may hardly come across one of these. As I saw almost all of them, let me take you around a little bit: Osma Bridge of Lofça in Bulgaria (today Loveč City on the Osam River) and Ponte Rialto in Venice are great examples of ‘covered’ bridges.
My list would be incomplete without mentioning the Pulteney Bridge that crosses the Avon River in Bath, England. This Palladian bridge also exceptionally has shops buit across its full span on both sides.
The last, but not the least, I would also like to mention one of the finest examples, the ‘Irgandı Bridge’ in Bursa Turkey. Bursa was one of the former capitals of the Ottoman Empire, adorned with outstanding examples of the refined Ottoman Architecture.
Even underrated by locals, the construction of Irgandı Bridge dates back 1400’s. The shops were offered to craftsmen immediately after the inauguration. It survived severe earthquakes, as well as bombings during the Turkish War of Independence. Recently restored by the Osmangazi Municipality, the bridge is worth visiting when in Bursa and still home to many legends, melancholic love stories with suicide myths.
A Quick Visit Back in History and Architecture
This article may seem incomplete without a historic and architectural visit to details, so let us have a glance through it for better understanding the marvel of Italian architecture of the time. Four defence towers were initially built on both ends of the bridge, however only Torre dei Manelli (The Manelli Tower) survived until today. As far as the dimensions are concerned, the height of the segmental arches that hold the bridge are between three to five meters, the main arch spanning up to thirty meters, supported with two side arches of twenty seven meters each.
The Lesser Known Vasari’s Coridor
Did you know that ‘an enclosed passageway’ runs through the bridge, once used by the nobleman of Florence and their families? Connecting Firenze Town Hall (Palazzo Vechhio) to Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace) with the Uffizi Gallery (Galleria degli Uffizi) in between, it enabled a safe route between these buildings. Called ‘Corridoio Vasariano’, this one-kilometer long passage had benches in every couple of hundred meters, decorated with objects of art and paintings on the walls, offering walkers a short break during these long walks.
In 1565, in order to provide a direct route to this passage without any turns or corners, Cosimo I de’ Medici of the famous Medici Family ordered the demolition of the Manelli Tower that I previously mentioned. However due to the strong opposition of the Manelli Family, the passage had to be built around the tower with multiple sharp turns.
As we arrive in 1593 on our timeline, we see that the Medici Grand Dukes decided to enhance the beauty, thus the prestige of the bridge by ordering the removal of the monopolised butchers from the shops, claiming that their activites caused extreme dirt and stink. The gold merchants and jewellery shops immediately replaced the butchers after they left the area. As I mentioned earlier, small additions of ‘Retrobotteghe’ were added to the eastern part of the bridge in seventeenth century. The tradition of gold trade reaches to modern day, as the bridge is still full of jewellery shops scattered on both sides.
Bankruptcy and Bancorotto
Would you be surprised to know that the word ‘Bancorotto’ commonly used today as ‘Bankruptcy’ in many Romance (Latin) Languages has its roots on this very place? In those days, a ‘Money Changer’ or ‘Broker’ operated behind his table on the bridge where he sold his wares with a special permission.
When he was unable to pay his depts, soldiers intervened and physically destroyed the table by axes, following the orders of ‘Barghello’. This was called a ‘Broken Table’, ‘Bancorotto’ or ‘Bancarotta’, thus emerging the word ‘Bankruptcy’. Naturally without a table, the merchant was unable to continue his activities.
Ponte Vecchio During the Second World War
During the Second World War Florence and its bridges suffered great damage due to bombings. However among all bridges, only Ponte Vechhio survived after the retreat of the German troops. Rumour has it that upon Hitler’s express and strict orders, only this bridge was left un destroyed. What an interesting bit of information is this, that we professional tour guides love to mention as we tour around the bridge, isn’t it? However the truth still remains blurred and lost in history. I would also like to remind that the bridge, though not destroyed, was actually away from a practical use, as both ends were blocked by demolished buildings and debris. Besides this, all side roads connecting the bridge to nearby routes were completely destroyed, rendering it unusable. Ponte Vecchio was rebuilt after the War with a combination of original and modern design in mind.
More and More Arno Floods
Floods continue to be a serious threat to the city and the bridges today. Not so long ago ‘The 1966 Flood of the Arno (Alluvione di Firenze del 4 novembre 1966) unfortunately killed around one hundred Florentine in one day. Millions of books and art objects were either lost or damaged, as well.
Strolling On Ponte Vecchio
While I am realizing the Ponte Vecchio visit, we enter the bridge from South. I firstly invite my guests to Western Façade to show them the bust of Benvenuto Cellini, the famous gold merchant and sculpture of Florence who lived here between 1500 – 1571. Cellini was also one of the leading figures of Mannerism that flourished during the Late Renaissance.
Our walk further takes us to the North Entrance of Ponte Vechhio. Here stands a stone with an inscription of Dante Alghieri (from Paradiso XVI. 140-7) indicating the exact location that Buondelmonti was murdered at 1215. This murder actually initiated the long struggle between the city states of central Italy until the fifteenth century, namely the Guelfs that were backed up by the Papacy against the Ghibellines who supported the Holy Roman Empire. Wow, Every stone at every corner has something to tell!
Reaching the midpoint, I show my guests another subtle stone that tells the brief story of ‘1333 Flood of Arno’ and the reconstruction efforts backed by local donators.
Hey, Do Not Clamp Those Padlocks!
As my walk takes all of us to present day, suprisingly and unfortunately we come across thousands of padlocks with varying colors and sizes, clamped onto the railings of this historic bridge just behind the bust of Cellini. This is a recent tourist trend that actually sprouted in many popular destinations all around the world. Initiated probably by a couple of travelers first, this craze occupied Ponte Vechhio very quickly, as well. The padlock, when attached on rails is believed to maintain an unbreakable, thus a ‘locked’ relation of a deep love between the couple. Throwing the key to the Arno River ia said to guarantee the continuation of love as an added security, which turns out to be another source of metal pollution in the riverbed.
You may also imagine the harm it brings to the overall apperance of the historic bridge. It also damages the original wrought iron works while they are sistematically removed by the Municipality. Some gossips indicate that the bycle shops located near the bridge started this trend on purpose to increase their sales, however the real motives are not clear. Fewer visitors attempt this habit nowadays as they notice the information board indicating the penalty of 670 Euros for offenders ‘caught in the act.’
Oh My Beloved Father ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’
As a professional tourist guide, worldwide traveler and musical documentaries producer, I love to play some music at every step of my organized trips, relevant to that very location we are at.
Naturally, as we are on the bridge, the expected question arrives without delay:
– ‘Mr. Ersu. We love to listen your carefully selected music and the stories behind them. How about this historic bridge Ponte Vecchio? What awaits us?’
All right! What about the Soprano Aria ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ (Oh My Beloved Father), composed by Giacomo Puccini in 1918, libretto by Giovacchino Forzano? Did you know that this piece is a part of the Opera Comic Gianni Schicchi that takes place in Medieval Florence and the bridge is used as its scene?
Well, sit back and close your eyes… As I slowly turn the volume up, let’s listen to this Aria, performed by Sarah Brightman, accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra.
While the soft musical score wraps your soul up, let me go back to my desk to travel among my notes to welcome you in the March 2017 Issue of Al Dana Magazine from another interesting corner of this small world.
All the best and have a very safe journey
PLEASE SCAN THE QR CODE TO LISTEN TO THE ARIA
OH MY BELOVED FATHER · O MIO BABBINO CARO
LIBRETTO BY GIOVACCHINO FORZANO
O mio babbino caro, mi piace, è bello, bello.
Oh my dear father, I like him, he is very handsome.
Vo’andare in Porta Rossa, a comperar l’anello!
I want to go to Porta Rossa, to buy the ring!
Sì, sì, ci voglio andare! E se l’amassi indarno,
Yes, yes, I want to go there! And if my love were in vain,
Andrei sul Ponte Vecchio, ma per buttarmi in Arno!
I would go to Ponte Vecchio and throw myself in the Arno!
Mi struggo e mi tormento! O Dio, vorrei morir!
I am pining and I am tormented, Oh God! I would want to die!
Babbo, pietà, pietà!
Daddy, have mercy, have mercy! Daddy, have mercy, have mercy!