One of the most important places to visit in Florence is Ponte Vecchio – Old Bridge. It is the oldest bridge of Florence as all the other bridges were destroyed during World War II and rebuilt later! Fortunately this bridge was saved. Many walking tours start from Ponte Vecchio – the finest example of the XIV century bridge with shops on top.
These shops are now tourist attractions with their typical Florentine jewellery – a nice souvenir from Florence, but in the previous centuries these were butcher’s shops that sold meat, fish and other products that could be spoiled quickly during hot summer season. When the food was not fresh anymore they just threw rotten stuff out of the window and the flow would take it far away from the city.
If you take a tourist guide to florence you will learn lots of interesting stories about the Medieval past of this bridge. It was the place for tanners who used the water from the river Arno to soak animal skins and tan them with horse urine to make them softer. These poor tanners remained bachelors as girls didn’t even want to stay close to them. It is
easy to explain – people didn’t wash in those days, not at all! There was a strong belief that taking a bath removed the protection of the holy water from Baptism. After the Baptism parents stopped washing their babies as they were afraid to wash away this holy protection. Adults didn’t wash for the same reason either – they didn’t want to be exposed to the devil. Imagine those poor tanners working with horse urine every day – no chance to find a girlfriend!
This was the smelliest place in Florence until Vasari Corridor was built in 1565. Cosimo de’ Medici had quite a few enemies in Florence and he was afraid of getting killed. That is the reason why he asked his court architect Giorgio Vasari to build a safe passageway that would connect Palazzo Vecchio (the office and yet the residence of Cosimo), the top floor of the Uffizi and Pitti Palace – the recently purchased palace and the new residence of the Medici family.
Pitti Palace (another must visit place in Florence!) is on the other side of the river Arno, so it was too difficult, too dangerous, to slow to dig and Cosimo needed an immediate solution – this corridor was supposed to serve him as escape way in the case of the siege. That is why Giorgio Vasari proposed him an unprecedented solution: to build a corridor which would go over people’s heads.
This is a one kilometre long safe passageway which was built only in 5 months– an incredibly short time for such an important and heavy structure as Vasari had to put it only on one side of the 14th century bridge.
Of course when the Medici passed over Ponte Vecchio they were disgusted by the smells coming from the bridge. When Cosimo’s third son Ferdinando came to power he sent all the butchers away from the bridge inventing a law that only jewellers could have a shop there – jewels don’t smell! At the same time jewellers are richer than butchers so Ferdinando raised the price of the rent. Like this the smelliest place of Florence transformed into the most prestigious one and from the end of the 16th century only aristocrats could afford buying a beautiful jewel.
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