For the best part of 700 years, the world-famous Ponte Vecchio has straddled the River Arno in the city of Florence, Italy. But did you know that there are other Arno River bridges begging to be explored?
Walk in the footsteps of Florentines past and present. Discover the most famous bridges in Florence by taking a stroll through this timeless cityscape.
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Explore Florence’s Bridges on a River Arno Walk
Ambling along the Arno is one of my favourite things to do in Florence, and is one of the best ways to get to know the city.
I recommend that you take this stroll in the late afternoon from west to east, starting at Ponte alla Vittoria and finishing at Ponte San Niccolò. This way, the sun will be at your back and the river will be on your right-hand side.
Without stops, this 3 km walk will take you around 40 minutes.
If you are feeling more energetic and want to eyeball another of Florence’s bridges, start further west at Ponte all’Indiano. This will extend the walk to 7 km.
Map of bridges of Florence
If you find it helpful to map it out, here’s one that I made earlier. For an interactive map, simply click here or on the image itself.
Most Famous Bridges in Florence
1. Ponte alla Vittoria
The starting point of our Arno river walk and the first of our famous bridges in Florence is Ponte alla Vittori. This is located close to the entrance to Parco delle Cascine, the city’s green lung.
Ponte alla Vittori was the first bridge in Florence to be built outside the city’s historic centre. A bridge first stood on this site in 1835 and was called Ponte San Leopoldo, named in honour of San Leopoldo.
This was originally a toll bridge. Sheep and pigs were a penny each; horses and cows 5 cents; finally, cars at 40 cents. Pedestrians were granted free passage.
A new structure was inaugurated in 1932, only to be blown up by the Nazis in 1944.
For a brief period in the summer of 1944, the Arno became a defensive line during Germany’s slow and painful retreat across central Italy at the end of World War II. Before they left Florence, the Germans destroyed all of the bridges in Florence, sparing only the Ponte Vecchio.
Today’s Ponte alla Vittori, inaugurated in 1946, is more functional than beautiful.
2. Ponte Amerigo Vespucci
Ponte Amerigo Vespucci is one of the city’s more modern bridges and is named after Florence-born explorer Amerigo Vespucci. The Vespucci family lived in this area of Florence, and the explorer is buried in the nearby church of Ognissanti.
In 1908, plans were drawn up to connect the south bank of the Arno to San Frediano in the Oltrarno. These plans never came to pass.
It wasn’t until 1949 that a bridge, Ponte di via Melegnano, was erected here, built from the recycled remains of other bridges that had been destroyed during the Nazis’ retreat from Florence. This was replaced by today’s Ponte Amerigo Vespucci in 1957.
It’s fair to say that this isn’t the prettiest bridge in Florence, but it is an important crossing for cars, commercial, and bus traffic heading south from Florence.
3. Ponte alla Carraia
Close to the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, one of Florence’s most important churches, is Ponte alla Carraia. This was the second bridge to be built on the Arno after Ponte Vecchio and was originally called Ponte Nuovo (New Bridge)
Commissioned by friars of the order of the Umiliati d’Ognissanti, entrepreneurs of the wool trade, its purpose was to carry their carri (wagons) to this part of the city
Like other bridges of Florence, Ponte alla Carraia fell victim to the Arno’s numerous floods, forcing it to be rebuilt many times. But in 1304, it was the weight of a crowd gathered to watch a theatrical performance on the river that caused its collapse.
The current version of the bridge, which dates to 1951, retained its original five arches and was built from pietraforte, a type of sandstone used in Florence’s medieval palaces. It has the nickname Ponto Gobbo or “The Humpback Bridge”, thanks to its marked curvature.
With its hard-to-beat views of both sides of the river, Ponte alla Carraia is one of the must-see bridges in Florence.
4. Ponte Santa Trinità
Sitting in the shadow of the Ponte Vecchio – in more ways than one – the graceful arches and stone decorations of this bridge make it a stunner. Ponte Santa Trinità connects the basilica of the same name with that of Santo Spirito in the Oltrarno on the north side of the river.
The original 13th Century wooden bridge fell victim to the fickle fury of the Arno. It was rebuilt in the middle of the 16th century by the Medicis with a helping hand from Michelangelo, Vasari and Bartolomeo Ammannati.
After its destruction in 1944, the Florentines set about recreating Ponte Santa Trinità in all of its former splendour. This included fishing the original statues of the Four Seasons that graced the destroyed bridge out of the river.
The new structure was inaugurated in 1958 with one notable omission: Spring’s head. This was discovered by a diver in the Arno in 1961, and the statue and the bridge itself were restored to their original Medician glory
From Ponte Santa Trinità, there is one of the finest views of Florence.
5. Ponte Vecchio
Sitting in the shadow of the Uffizi Gallery, the beautiful Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) barely needs an introduction.
This is easily the most famous bridge in Florence and is synonymous with the city itself. It has played a prime role in many movies set in Italy, including A Room with a View.
Ponte Vecchio is also the oldest bridge in Florence. The current bridge replaces a wooden construction from the 970s, which in turn was a successor to a bridge that may have gone back to the Romans.
Like many medieval bridges in Europe, the new 14th Century bridge was lined with shops and houses. By the 16th Century, it had become the street of the butchers, who were evicted after Vasari built Cosimo de Medici’s secret passage over the top (reportedly the stench was too much to bear).
The Vasari Corridor is an elevated covered passageway above Ponte Vecchio, which linked the Palazzo Vecchio with the Palazzo Pitti, two of Florence’s best-known landmarks. It has been closed for restoration since 2016 and is due to open to tourists in 2022.
Goldsmiths and jewellers took the place of the meat merchants on Ponte Vecchio and have been there ever since. Pause to take in the timeless view downstream.
6. Ponte alle Grazie
Ponte alle Grazie was the third bridge built after Ponte Vecchio and Ponte alla Carraia. It connects the historical city centre near Basilica di Santa Croce on one side of the Arno with the Boboli Gardens in the Oltrarno.
It was initially called Ponte Rubaconte after the name of the Podestà (mayor) at the time it was first built (1237). It was rechristened in the 14th Century, named after a chapel on the bridge that held a venerated image of Santa Maria dell Grazie.
In the 19th Century, one of the structures on the bridge provided access to the public baths in the river, the bathing establishments of that time.
The present-day bridge was inaugurated in 1957. Although a relatively modern bridge, like Ponte alla Carraia, pietraforte was used in its construction.
7. Ponte San Niccolò
Ponte San Niccolò takes its name from the adjacent neighbourhood of the same name. It is the furthest upstream bridge over the Arno in central Florence and the only single-arched bridge in the city.
The first bridge at this site was built between1836 and 1837, close to the dam that channelled water to the nearby mills. It was originally a suspension bridge, named Ponte San Ferdinando in honour of Grand Duke Ferdinand III of Tuscany.
Ponte San Ferdinando had a short life. After it was destroyed in the floods of 1844, it was rebuilt in 1853 and tweaked again in 1890. It was at this time it was renamed Ponte San Niccolò.
Following its levelling by the Germans, Ponte San Niccolò was rebuilt as a reinforced concrete bridge in 1949.
What About Ponte all’Indiano?
I love the (non-Renaissance) unusual story attached to this bridge.
Ponte all’Indiano, or Bridge of the Indian, takes its name from the nearby Indian Monument of Chhatrapati Rajaram, at the western edge of Parco delle Cascine.
Rajaram Chhatrapati was an Indian maharaja who died at the age of 21. His remains were cremated at the confluence of the Arno and stream of the Mugnone, near this site in the park.
Opened in 1978, it was the first earth-anchored cable-stayed bridge in the world. Although this is primarily a traffic bridge, there is a bike-friendly pedestrian walkway underneath.
If you don’t fancy walking, city buses 35 and 56 stop close to the bridge.
Seeing the Bridges of Florence from Another Angle
Florence owes much of its prosperity to the River Arno and its bridges each play their part in this city’s rich history.
Ambling along the Arno is one of the best ways of appreciating the architecture and history of these bridges – look out for information boards on the riverbank – and is a worthy addition to your Florence itinerary. But if you want to view them from another angle, why not take a boat trip along the Arno?
Benefit from a live guide during this one-hour boat tour in a barchetto, a traditional wooden boat. There’s even a glass of wine thrown in.
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