Visiting Florence one cannot help but cross, re-cross, walk and walk again along the banks of the River Arno which cuts through the centre of the city. Having crossed or walked along it daily, I found myself constantly shooting pictures of the River, its banks and bridges—it was constantly mesmerizing….there were days when I simply sat by the river, glass of wine in hand or leaned for hours on the river walls spellbound by the interplay of river, buildings and light.
It is clearly central to the identity of Florence.
Since ancient times, the Arno river has been the transit route between the mouth of the sea and the Apennines when wood was needed for architectural works. It is 241 kilometers long. Over time the Arno greatly influenced the economic development of Florence. However drought and periods of low water reduced its navigability and with the construction of railroads in the 19th century, it was no longer a commercial transit route.
Almost immediately one notices there are no tour boats, no water taxis or commercial craft. The only boats I saw were the local rowing club members out for their sculling practices. I very calming form of boat traffic. One Sunday I was entertained by a two teams of 6 players in kayaks that seemed to play a sort of waterpolo / waterbasketball at the rowing club just below the Ponte Vecchio.
Even though the river is often low and calm, it has flooded. The worst in the history of the city since the flood of 1557 was the 1966 Flood. It had a lasting impact on Florence. 5000 families were left homeless and 6000 stores were forced out of business. Immeasurable damage was done to the art and the ancient book collections in the city. People from around the world, including experts (named by Florentines subsequently as MUD ANGELS) came voluntarily to help clean the city and retrieve the works of art and books. Restoration efforts continue even today. In 1984 a dam was built and the river banks were raised to protect the city from future disasters.
The Ponte Vecchio ‘Old Bridge’ is possibly the most well known and most photographed of the bridges. Oltrarno or ‘other Arno’, meaning the other side of the Arno, is the neighborhood across the river. A wonderful area, in which you will find the Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens. I spent 2 weeks in a loft apartment in Oltrarno and loved this neighborhood. It is the home of many students and working Florentines.
The Ponte Vecchio was, until 1218, the only bridge across the Arno in Florence. In World War II, it was the only bridge not destroyed. It withstood the weight of the tons of water and silt when the Arno burst its banks in 1966.
While today goldsmith shops are housed in every nook and cranny of the bridge, the shops were owned by butchers in the 13th -15th centuries. As the Pitti Palace was ‘oltrarno’ they had to use the bridge to get into central Florence. The noble Medici did not like walking amongst the lower society nor the smell of the meat cutters,they built a corridor above the shops as their personal passage to the Palace—the Corridoio Vasariano. The original butchers, fishmongers and tanners were banned in the 16th century (probably due to the rank smell that accompany these businesses) by Ferdinand I. He decreed only goldsmiths and jewelers could have stores on the bridge.
As you can see from my photos ( and I took many more) I loved taking a passeggiata (stroll) along the rivers and across the bridges. Ponte Santa Trinita lay at the bottom of my road, a stones through from my loft apartment. It led straight to the Ferragamo and best gelato shop across the river.
You will see from many of the river and bridge pictures, that the other element which fascinated me was the amazing skies in Florence. I read ( can’t remember where I picked this up) “ Italy celebrates an endless vocabulary of light on landscape that change from morning to evening, north to south and season to season. The luminous vistas recorded by Leornardi da Vinci in his paintings can still be seen when travelling any Tuscan Road”.
Certainly I was constantly drawn to take photos of the skies. I hope you enjoy the pictures….they will long be a wonderful memory for me.