We loved our time in Florence and our week living in an apartment in Oltrarno. The small, modern apartment was perfect for us and the view as we’ve mentioned was one of the best in all of Florence. We were able to sit each evening and watch the boats on the river and the pedestrians crossing the Ponte Vecchio. We understand the origin of the legend that the oldest bridge in the city was spared from being demolished by the retreating Nazis because of its beauty, because the bridge is truly beautiful.
The beauty does have a dark side, though it’s only seen by those who cross it a lot. A downside of being on the oltrarno side of Florence meant that if we wanted to travel to anywhere on the Duomo side of the river meant we had to cross the bridge. You’d think we’d be saying “oh, beautiful! What a wonderful place to stroll across each day.” You’d be wrong. The Ponte Vecchio is a narrow bridge, it is also lined with numerous jewelry shops, each two or three stories tall. You find yourself walking through a gilded floating canyon with only one entrance and one exit — 276 feet away on the other side of the Arno.
You will never hear me complain about the beauty or deny the bridge its praise that makes it a symbol of renaissance Florence, yet, like a hot girl you’d like to meet but can’t get close to because of all the other guys around her, the Ponte Vecchio is crowded. If you need to cross the bridge during the day when the shops are open, brace yourself. The pedestrian traffic, if measured in the same way as vehicle traffic, would probably be the equivalent of the Washington, DC beltway during rush hour. We would have to cross the “Old Bridge” multiple times a day or walk 15 to 20 minutes out of our way to the Santa Trinita Bridge further downstream.
On several of our trips across the canyon of a bridge, I felt like Simba in The Lion King facing the wildebeest stampede. The wildebeest in this case were the throngs of tourists moving in massive herds across the bridge and the city like animals migrating across the savannah. Like the animals on the savannah it’s often better to watch them from a distance rather than walk in the herd.
The best hours for walking across the bridge is of course in the early morning before the shops open and the tourists begin to stir. You get the bridge to yourself and get to see the jewelry shops buttoned up like little jewelry boxes with their large wooden doors and iron hinges.
I guess the point of this post is the Ponte Vecchio is striking and an amazing piece of art. And like a lot of art it is best viewed by taking a step back in order to take it all in.