The Ponte Vecchio in Florence

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.

Ponte Vecchio in Florence

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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3 replies
  1. Eugene
    Eugene says:

    With all its summertime crowds and apparent compulsion, Ponte Vecchio was, is and remains a special street/bridge, not only for visitors but for florentines too. The shopkeepers do exactly what all shopkeepers everywhere do – they sell their wares. You will never see them outside hawking or trying to lure buyers intontheir stores! This is Ponte Vecchio, not the casbah! Locals use the bridge to get from here to there and back again – before it’s a tourist attraction, it’s a thoroughfare, one with 700+ years of history!

    • admin
      admin says:

      Hi Eugene, I didn’t mean to be offensive – I like the bridge, its history, its business, its function and the crowds it attracts. I just prefer to observe it from a distance and to see the sight in a literary context.

  2. Cathy Sweeney
    Cathy Sweeney says:

    I know what you mean. I’ve had similar thoughts about beautiful, famous places that lost some of their charm when I got closer — in most cases, because of commercial tourism. I still enjoy the history or beauty of the place itself, but disappointed that I can’t see it the way I imagined it.


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