The ugliest pedestrian bridge in the world?

The Ponte Vecchio is a stone three-arch pedestrian bridge over the Arno River in Florence, Italy. A bridge at this location dates back to Roman times, first appearing in documentation in 996AD, with bridges being destroyed in floods of 1117AD and 1333AD.  The current bridge, built in 1345AD and was spared destruction by the Germans in World War II, allegedly by an expressed order of Hitler.  And, more recently, it miraculously survived the massive flood of 1966.

Close up view of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. 

Ponte Vecchio from a little further back with reflection in Arno River.

Ponte Vecchio with garden-like river bank and on the right you can see the tourists lined up to enjoy the view of the river, buildings and bridge.

Tourist Trap

If you've seen one vendor shop window you have seen them all.

The bridge has always hosted shops and merchants (butchers, fishmongers, tanners etc.) but by 1442AD it was monopolized by butchers and the bridge stank from centuries of industrial waste. So in 1593, the Medici Grand Dukes, in an effort to enhance the prestige of the bridge prohibited butchers from selling there and decreed that only goldsmiths and jewelers could have their shops on the bridge – a tradition that continues today.

To say the bridge is teeming with tourists is an understatement.  It is also, in my mind an understatement to say the place is a tacky tourist attraction with hucksters selling everything from bad art to kitschy trinkets (not much different than panhandling) in front of the permanent shops on the edge of the bridge.

This was early morning when the hucksters had not set up yet and the throngs of tourists had not arrived - still a popular place.

The bridge’s exterior design is also tacky with its ramshackled collage of protruding house-like shops in need of a good coat of paint.  It is an awkward mix of stone, stucco and wood (shutters). While some might see it as quaint, it doesn’t have the wonderful decoration, ornamentation and quality craftsmanship of the historic stone buildings and sculptures that dominate Florence’s urban design. It looks like a tired stucco bridge from the 1960s.The shops along the bridge could also use some tender loving care.  One usually associates goldsmith and jewelry with upscale shops and elegant presentations, not flea market stalls.

Above these shops is the Vasari Corridor, a walkway that runs over the shops and houses built by the Duke of Florence in the 16th century so he could commute between his two residences (Uffizi and Pitti Palace) without having to mix with the public.

Everything about the bridge didn’t fit with our design sensibilities.  We avoided it as much as we could (and with other bridges nearby, it was easy to do).

Pedestrian bridges should be designed to offer great vistas of the river and the city. 

This is one of my postcard images of Florence. 

Last Word

My immediate thought was “this is the world’s ugliest pedestrian bridge”.  I even tweeted that out.  Immediately I got people retweeting me that they liked it.

And, since coming back, several people have asked “Did you like the Ponte Vecchio Bridge?”  When I said, “I hated it!” they were shocked.  I guess if you are into history and can overlook/see past the tacky jewelry shops and the obnoxious souvenir sellers (who place their product on the ground so you almost trip over them), it could be an attractive place. We just avoided it!

In reading others’ blog post it seemed the bridge is a popular, romantic river evening stroll. Could the Everyday Tourist be wrong!

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