Florence, Italy: a city on the Arno River with many attractions

Arno River.

When I arrived in Florence, it was forty degrees, and so the first thing I wanted to do was to get close to the water, to feel a little bit of coolness. I decided to head toward the river. What was my disappointment when I realized that there was nothing river-like from the river: no breeze, or at least a characteristic scent of algae. What’s more, the water in the Arno is not transparent at all, it’s even brown. This color it acquired either from contamination, or because of the composition of the soil through which it flows, that I could not find out. But in any case, it is not suitable for bathing at all.

But the Arno, despite being muddy and not too long, is still, I believe, a great river. And what makes the Arno great is its rich history.

History

Florence – is a city in which almost every stone and flower – historical value. The Arno, which is the second longest river in Central Italy after the Tiber, is no exception. The Arno takes its source in the Apennine mountains and flows into the Ligurian Sea near the city of Pisa. The length of the river is no less than 248 kilometers.

When I was in Florence, the river behaved very calmly, its flow could not be called even slightly turbulent. Against the background of the general heat, the sluggish Arno looked very harmonious. But after reading about the history of the river, I was surprised: it turns out that during a flood in November 1966 in the waters of the Arno 40 people were killed, Florence itself has been heavily damaged, damaged many works of art, spoiled collections of rare books. The National Central Library suffered most of all from the flood. This is what the saying “Don’t wake the beast while he sleeps” means. The shifting nature of the river has been curbed by the Italians by setting up dams along its entire length.

The Arno and Florence

In densely built-up Florence, the river is a good landmark. When I wandered through the little old streets of the center, whose names were either not on the map or whose names had been erased from the walls of the houses over the years, my only salvation and hope of getting to a crowded and familiar place was the river. It didn’t matter where you were: if you headed toward the river, you always had a chance to get either to the waterfront or to one of the many squares along the river.

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The river divides the city into two parts. They are not formally called by any name, but figuratively they can be described as “cultural and leisure” and “green”. On the first side is the center of the city, most museums and cathedrals, stores and restaurants. On the left side of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge is the Uffizi Gallery, where the major masterpieces of Florentine art are collected. The gallery has a wonderful view of the river and the bridge. It is from there that the most stunning panoramic photographs are taken.

A little farther from the gallery is the Galileo Museum, a very tiny museum of scientific inventions from the Renaissance. Most of the exhibits on display are handmade. The main gem of the museum is Galileo Galilei’s telescope, through which he suggested that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

Also above the Arno is the famous Vazzari Corridor. Built in 1565 at the request of Cosimo I, the corridor is a covered gallery and connects Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti. Unfortunately, the Vazzari Corridor is closed to the public.

The second part is more of a tranquil existence. It is a hilly area with parks and frequent, densely built houses. That’s where the Boboli Gardens and Michelangelo Mountain are located. It’s also where there are fewer tourists and cheaper restaurants.

These two completely different halves of the same city are connected by ten bridges.The most famous of them are the three bridges that are located in the central part of Florence: Ponte Santa Trinita, Ponte Alle Grazie, Ponte Vecchio.

Three Bridges

Ponte Vecchio.

The bridge is located at the narrowest part of the Arno River and is almost the most important symbol of Florence. Despite the fact that the bridge was built in 1345, it has kept its original appearance to this day. This is the only bridge that has not been reconstructed after World War II.

It is very easy to get to the Bridge of Vecchio, it is near the Piazza della Signoria, and moving down the main street of Florence Santa Maria, you will get right to it.

The Bridge of the Vecchio has always been a place of lively commerce. There used to be butcher shops where you could buy the best meat in town, but now jewelry stores have taken their place.

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The Vecchio Bridge is always crowded. Mostly it’s a gathering place for tourists who like to take pictures of the Florentine landscape and quirky little houses. Though there are also many who come just for the jewelry. All the jewelry on the bridge is of very high quality, but unfortunately, are not sold at the most reasonable prices.

And also on this bridge very often you can meet Italian weddings, which come to the bust of the great Benvenuto Cellini – the sculptor, musician and even the jeweler of the Renaissance. Traditionally, newlyweds hang “love locks” on the fence near the bust.

Ponte alle Grazie

This bridge was originally built in 1227. In 1335 it was rebuilt, several arches were added, and this made it the longest bridge in the city.

Ponte alle Grazie bears its name after the Madonna delle Grazie Chapel.

During World War II, the bridge was blown up by the Germans. After the victory over Fascism and Nazism, it was decided to rebuild the bridge.

The bridge now has four piers with thin arches between them, its new design blends harmoniously with the ancient architecture of Florence. But in appearance and construction materials it is quite different from its predecessor, as, indeed, from other bridges of the city.

Ponte Santa Trinita

Ponte Santa Trinita (Holy Trinity) is the most elegant bridge of Florence. It is located on the right and in close proximity to the Ponte Vecchio.

Originally the bridge was wooden, but in 1259 it collapsed under the weight of the crowd who were watching a theatrical performance. After that, the bridge was rebuilt. But it didn’t adorn the stone appearance for long – soon it was again damaged by the flood, and it was rebuilt again. The new bridge was designed by Bartolomeo Ammannati, who, according to legend, consulted and discussed his plan with Michelangelo. The Ponte Santa Trinita was eventually built of yellow-brown stone and decorated with allegorical statues on both sides of the bridge. These statues symbolize the four seasons: “Spring” by Pietro Francavila, “Winter” by Taddeo Landini, “Summer” and “Autumn” by Giovanni Caccini.

Unfortunately, during World War II, this bridge was also destroyed by German soldiers. It was decided to recreate it “where it was and how it was”. Its exact copy was erected in 1958. The statues of the seasons were preserved, found and restored. They still decorate the bridge to this day.

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The Great Arno

Speaking of the Arno as the great Italian river, I would call it the linchpin that holds the city together.

Florence was founded more than two thousand years ago thanks to the river. At that time, people could not have imagined the wealth of communication resources that we have today. That is why water was the main and decisive factor that guided them when they founded their settlements. We still value bodies of water as sources of water for home and industry, and, of course, for the opportunity to bathe in them. If we do not have enough water, we just drill a well to the aquifer. But in those distant times, the river nearby was a vital necessity.

Florence is simply impossible to imagine without the Arno. This river, which permeated the history of the city, not without reason flows in the center of Florence. It gives Florentines a sense that it is the river that created and nurtured their homeland.

The Arno River in Florence

The Arno River in Florence

Florence cannot be imagined without its main waterway, the Arno River, which crosses the city and creates a unique urban space. You can take a walk along its banks and admire the splendid palaces and cathedrals, or walk on the river under the bridges on barchetto boats, which are very popular with tourists.

Geographical data

The Arno, with its 248 miles, is the second longest river in Italy. Its upper course begins in the Apennine Mountains (Appennini), at an altitude of about 1300 km. Its mouth is near Pisa where the river flows into the Ligurian Sea.

The banks

Flowing through the hilly landscape of Florence the Arno divides the city into two parts connected by ten bridges.

Right bank

On the right side is the historic center of the Tuscan capital. Major restaurants, stores, hotels and major tourist attractions are concentrated here. Some of the most popular include:

    (Piazza del Duomo) and its inimitable temple complex; (Piazza della Signoria), home to palazzo Vecchio and the magnificent Loggia dei Lanzi, with priceless ancient sculptures and works by Renaissance masters like Donatello, Michelangelo and Bartolomeo Ammannati;
  1. The centuries-old Basilica di San Lorenzo;
  2. Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, famous for its collections of ancient manuscripts; Palazzo Medici Riccardi, a model of early Renaissance secular building;
  3. Piazza Santa Croce and the basilica of the same name, which is the tomb of famous artists, cultural figures and politicians of Italy;
  4. Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, the best example of Renaissance architecture; Palazzo Strozzi and Palazzo Rucellai, examples of Renaissance palace architecture;
  5. The Loggia del Mercato Nuovo is a popular destination for Florentine visitors who want to buy souvenirs and other curiosities.
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Left bank

The left (south) bank of the River Arno is called the Oltrarno and was once considered the habitat of the city’s poorer inhabitants. This part of Florence is called “green” because of the beautiful scenery of the hills and the wealth of examples of garden art, carefully preserved since the Renaissance. Not only visitors to the city, but also locals come here to admire the breathtaking views. In between the Boboli Gardens and the Bardini Park, Piazzale Michelangelo is a must-see tourist attraction.

Floods

In the historical chronicles of the city, which are recorded over 900 years, there are about 56 references to floods that occurred because the River Arno was overflowing its banks.

The first dates back to 1177. Almost every century the water element caused catastrophic damage to the inhabitants of the Tuscan capital. The most tragic years in this sense were 1333, 1557, 1740 and 1844.

Flooding on the Arno River in Florence

The last flood occurred in 1966, and is considered the largest and most destructive. At that time, dozens of lives were taken, thousands of priceless works of art and monuments of architecture were destroyed and spoiled. The waters of the river rose to a mark of 6 meters. The vaults of the National Central Library were especially affected, losing more than a third of the book collection (one and a half million copies).

On the facades of Florentine buildings one could find special signs indicating the level of raised water. The dams and reinforcements built help to stabilize the situation today.

Bridges

Most of Florence’s bridges were destroyed by the German army at the end of World War II, and later rebuilt or rebuilt.

Bridges in Florence

Hitler’s retreating armies left only the Ponte Vecchio intact. Four of the ten bridges were built in the second half of the 20th century, including modern road and railroad engineering structures connecting both sides of the city.

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Ponte Vecchio.

Consisting of three arches, the Ponte Vecchio (the name translates from Italian as “old”) tops the list of the most popular sights in the Tuscan capital. The date of construction is 1345. It is noteworthy that it was erected in the part of the river where once, back in Roman times, there was a smaller structure of wooden planking and stone props connecting the banks. The graceful and sturdy structure, which has survived unchanged to this day, was designed by the architect Neri di Fioravante.

Ponte Vecchio

The peculiarity of the 32-meter bridge is a succession of closely spaced buildings on both sides of the structure, and the presence of an observation deck in the middle. Before the 16th century there were shops selling meat and fish, which were later replaced by jewelry stores that still exist today. Thanks to the latter, the bridge was called the Golden Bridge.

Ponte alle Grazie

The modern Ponte alle Grazie (ponte alle Grazie) was rebuilt in 1957 on the site of an ancient bridge destroyed by German troops in 1944.

Bridge ponte alle Grazie in Florence

The unique structure, created back in 1227 was considered in the middle of last century the longest and most durable structure connecting the two parts of the city.

During its centuries-long history, the bridge has undergone many transformations and has been repeatedly modernized.

Ponte alle Grazie before reconstruction

It got its present name in the 15th century thanks to the chapel of the same name, which was located here until 1876, along with workshops, shops, monasteries and other buildings.

Ponte Santa Trinita

Ponte Santa Trinita was built in the middle of the 13th century. After another devastating flood in 1333, the lightweight wooden structure was replaced by a stone one, and in 1557 the bridge acquired its present appearance. It was destroyed by Hitler’s army in 1944, and 13 years later rebuilt, completely copying its original medieval appearance.

Santa Trinita Bridge in Florence

The stylistics of the bridge were designed by Bartolomeo Ammannati, an Italian master who used the drawings of the famous Michelangelo.

The monumentality of the construction is combined with graceful arches hovering over the water, creating a sense of lightness and sophistication. The sophistication of the architectural style is enhanced by the statues installed at the entrance to the bridge, representing the seasons.

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