Taddeo Gaddi (attributed to)
Ponte Vecchio – pictured in November 1966
Stone closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge
Photo by Vincenzo Balocchi
The Ponte Vecchio, or “Old Bridge,” is one of the most recognizable symbols of Florence. Its current version was built in 1345, which Vasari attributed to Taddeo Gaddi. Two predecessors were destroyed by floods in 1117 and 1333, the latter also on November 4th. The bridge used to house butchers and grocers until 1593 when Ferdinando I evicted them in favor of the jewelers and goldsmiths for which the bridge is best known today. (Brey, 173) The Ponte Vecchio was the sole survivor of German operation Feuerzauber, or “fire magic,” in 1944, which destroyed all the city’s other bridges and the buildings around the Ponte Vecchio to block the Allies’ access. The War, however, did see a modification to bridge, Mussolini had windows installed in the Corrodoio Vasariano so that as he toured the private gallery within, Hitler could have a nice view of “the Jewel of Europe” from his favorite bridge.
On the night of November 3rd, it had been raining very hard. The night watchmen for the syndicate of jewelers of the Ponte Vecchio heard a great rumbling coming from the Arno and phoned the shop owners, telling them they had better get down there quick and collect their merchandise. The bridge would survive the flood structurally, but it was another scene of bizarre, Dantesque destruction. (Clark, 132-133) Most of its shops were severely damaged. A truck had smashed through both sides of the center of the bridge, which eased the immense pressure of the water. (Clark, 147)
During the night most were convinced the Ponte Vecchio was going to collapse. Whole trees had already pierced through shops on one side of the bridge and come out the other. Ugo Procacci, who had snuck past sniper fire to recover Florence’s art while the city was still divided between the Germans and Allies on either side of the now raging Arno, decided he must remove the paintings in the Corrodoio and ordered his staff to stay put; he would not put their lives in danger. Umberto Baldini, art historian and director of the Gabinetto del Restauro, disobeyed along with ten others. Together they formed a human chain and brought all the works to safety. No one was hurt. (Clark, 141-142)
Ponte Vecchio, present day.
• Brey, I.D. (2009). The Venus fixers: the remarkable story of the allied soldiers who saved Italy’s art during World War II. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
• Clark, R. (2008). Dark water: art, disaster, and redemption in Florence. New York: Anchor Books.