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Next to the Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio is probably Florence's favourite tourist attraction. Until 1218 this was the only bridge crossing the Arno river. However, the great flood of 1333 completely destroyed the bridge and it had to be rebuilt.
In the 14th century the first shops were opened in the area, though these were hardly the jewellers you see today, but rather butchers, fishmongers and dyer's workshops. The truth is that during this time the bridge was anything but glamorous, especially because of the smell of horse urine that the dyers traditionally used to dye their skins. In addition, animal guts and waste were carelessly thrown into the river.
Visitors should also bear in mind that the eastern side of the bridge features the Vasari Corridor, the extended passageway built by Vasari so Cosimo I could go from the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti undisturbed. Anyhow, in 1593, Ferdinand I, tired of suffering the odours and cries of traders as he strolled along the passageway, ordered them evacuated. In their place the jewellers and goldsmiths seen today were installed.
It is also worth noting that this bridge was the only one in the city that survived the Nazi occupation, and this at the express wish of Hitler.
Today, these shops sell all kinds of pieces, from modern jewellery to beautiful antique rings. However the Ponte Vecchio district does not rely on jewellers alone, as visitors will also come across a wealth of street performers and vendors trying to make a living from the hundreds of tourists who daily visit the area. And finally, if it were up to us, we would recommend you visit the bridge at sunset, as this is the time of day when the district takes on a particularly unique and beautiful colour.
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