Thursday 4 August 2011

Ponte Vecchio

     Last summer, the kids and I put together a puzzle of the Ponte Vecchio ("Old Bridge"). It is one of the oldest stone bridges in Europe, spanning the River Arno in Florence, Italy and is the only bridge to be spared by the Nazis during their retreat of August 4, 1944.  The Nazis destroyed every other bridge in the city, but left the Ponte Vecchio intact after a direct order from Hitler, possibly because of its history.  Instead, the Nazis destroyed the buildings on either end of the bridge to prevent access to it.

     The first records of the bridge date back to 998, but within 100 years of its construction, it was destroyed when the River Arno flooded.  It was rebuilt and served as a home for several shops housing fishmongers, butchers and vegetable sellers.  So much trade was done on the bridge that people believe that the word "bankrupt" originated here.  Each merchant did his business on a "banco"; if he ran out of money, his "banco" was "rotto" meaning his bench was broken.  "Bancorotto" means broken bank and without a bank, the merchant could no longer do business, hence the term "bankrupt". 

     When Ferdinand 1 de Medici, an Italian duke, used to pass over the Ponte Vecchio in the 1500's, he did not like the smell and so he ordered that the fishmongers, butchers and vegetable sellers be replaced with goldsmiths and silversmiths. 

     In 1966, the Ponte Vecchio was assaulted by yet another flood on the River Arno during which many shops were destroyed but the bridge itself survived.  The shops were rebuilt and the bridge remains a centrepiece of Florence today.

Photo courtesy

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