Lovers leave padlocks attached to fixtures on the bridge, throwing the keys into the water to seal their love forever. But watch you don't get tempted to do the same - it is greatly frowned upon and the fines are now quite heavy!
Santa Felicita church
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 9:30am - 12pm and 3:30pm - 5:30pm.
Closing days: Sundays and public holidays.
The Ponte Vecchio bridge is the oldest and shortest of the six bridges of the city. It is also the main bridge as it leads people to the heart of the city, connecting the Pitti Palace to Piazza Repubblica and Piazza Duomo.
The Arno River, which has always played a part in Florence's development as a city, is about 240 km long (150 miles), flowing from the Appenine mountains behind Florence and all the way west to Pisa and out into the Ligurian sea. Florence, being built in a valley, has proven itself to be so susceptible to floods that the Florentine saying is “the only way to stop the floods is to move Florence.” Indeed, during the autumn months it tends to rain and the river swells and Florence has suffered particularly heavy flooding over the centuries. Some of the greatest floods recorded have been 1117, 1333 (both of which swept away the bridges where Ponte Vecchio now stands), 1557 and the most recent in 1966 on the 4th of November (strangely, the same date as the flood in 1333). You can still find original plaques on city walls showing the depth of the water on each of these various dates.
Shops began appearing on the Ponte Vecchio by the 13th century. The first of the shops belonged to tanners and pursemakers, whose leather works required the convenience of the supply of water, but also caused a terrible smell as skins were left to soak in urine. By the beginning of the 1400's, it was mainly the butchers – also for the supply of water, which they relied on to wash away their animal carcasses and bloody scraps – who occupied the shops on the bridge, contributing, if not causing most of the wretched stench around the area. It is no wonder the Dukes later decided to jazz up the place by only allowing goldsmiths over butchers and tanners to occupy the bridge!
In the mid-16th century Giorgio Vasari was commissioned to build the enclosed passageway or corridor for the Grand Duke Cosimo I and family. It allowed them to pass from their palace on the Oltrarno, the Palazzo Pitti, through the Uffizi (then, offices of the government) to the Palazzo Vecchio by an elegant, covered walkway. It was also the perfect way for the Duke to avoid mingling with the commoners and to protect himself from potential enemies, while allowing for the opportunity secretly to spy on his subjects below in the streets. You can see this walkway with its little round and square windows artfully incorporated into the rooftops of the medieval shops of the Ponte Vecchio.
The Vasari Corridor, as it became known, also passed through the church of Santa Felicita and a special opening allowed the Medici family to attend Mass on a balcony still visible to visitors today. To get to the church of Santa Felicita leave the Ponte Vecchio with the Vasari Corridor on your left, cross the road and continue to the next small piazza on the left. On entering, immediately to your right you will find the Capponi Chapel holding one of the most fascinating paintings in all of Florence: Pontormo’s Deposition, finished in 1528.
Almost looking like a scene of figures dancing on a stage, the Virgin Mary swoons with grief as two elongated figures hold up the body of Christ; one of them, coloured in a rosy light, crouches on tip-toes. Five other figures hover around the Virgin, while on the edge of the painting looking into this scene (but distinctly out of it), with a beard and a brown cloak, is a self-portrait of Pontormo. Everything is expressed through colour, shape, and emotion. Pontormo is searching for something deeper than the description of nature, deeper than the scene itself.