Visiting Ponte Vecchio in Florence with the touristy crowds and George Elliot’s Italian renaissance novel Romola in mind.
It’s funny how some landmarks can seem so enticing from a distance and still disappoint in close up. Like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. A pretty medieval bridge spanning the Arno with three arches, a road lined with shops and three smaller arches and a secret passageway. From a distrance the bridge looks incredibly charming surrounded by golden, yellow, salmon and orange coloured houses that are reflected in the river and hung by some kind of potting sheds that look as if their floors are suspended in thin air. Definitely a sight to remember.
Yet when you come closer the beauty wanes and the hustle gets scary. Souvenir sellers and jewelers compete for business, the haggling is worse than in Istanbul’s Kapali Carsi ( – or well not quite but close enough – ) and the crowd is so tight and tense that you don’t have to be anxiety prone to develop a galloping case of claustrophobia.
The experience makes it easy to identify with George Elliot’s Tito character in Romola – a novel set in renaissance Florence. In the novel the morally tainted Tito finds himself trapped by a mob on Ponte Vecchio and he sees no other chance of escape than to divert their attention by throwing away his valuables and jumping in the river.
Tito survived and left me forever wondering whether the Arno under Ponte Vecchio is deep enough for a head dive and whether the water quality 500 years ago made swimming in the river less of a health hazard. I wouldn’t give it a try.
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