Florence’s Ponte Vecchio is almost 700 years old. It should be no surprise therefore, that it has been suffering from aging pains. For the first time in its history, it is set to undergo a major restoration. And there are signs that work is about to start, as a floating platform with scaffolding appeared on the Arno River this week.
Built in 1345, Ponte Vecchio is the oldest surviving bridge in Florence. Designed by Taddeo Gaddi (a pupil of Giotto), the covered span originally housed blacksmiths, tanners and butchers until 1593, when Duke Ferdinando evicted them because of the stench they caused by dumping waste into the Arno. They were subsequently replaced by goldsmiths, jewelers and antique dealers–the beloved stores that are like magnets to tourists.
During World War II, Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge in Florence to survive the Nazi bombings.
The €2 million public project will be carried out as a joint effort of the Belle Arti (Fine Arts) and Viabilità (Mobility) commissions of Palazzo Vecchio (the city hall of Florence). Mayor Dario Nardella described the earmarking of city funds as a “major investment that will allow the enhancement of one of the world’s greatest icons.”
The city affirms that the bridge is structurally sound and poses no danger to the public, and the Mayor states that indeed, the upkeep of the global icon that attracts hundred of thousands of tourists is ever ongoing. The Ponte Vecchio has undergone “various transformations and numerous consolidations over the years, most recently after the dramatic flood of 1966, but never before has any project addressed the state of its stone and decorations.”
The restoration work on the bridge will take place in several stages. The floating platform that was just installed will be used to carry out surveys and take material samples as a preparatory measure. A bridge monitoring system is also being set up, and will stay in place for a year.
Thorough cleaning is next on the to-do list. This will include removing algae — what locals have been referring to as croste nere, or “black crusts” — lichen and vegetation. The focus will then move to repairing deteriorated sections below the shops and filling cracks in the pietra forte (hard stone) arches. A major goal of the project is to revive the bridge’s coat of arms and trim, which have been obscured from view by wear-and-tear over the years. Finally, the bridge will get a fresh coat of paint, completing the facelift that will restore it to its youthful beauty.