The Ponte Vecchio is a Medieval bridge over the Arno River, in Florence, Italy, noted for still having shops built along it, as was once common. Butchers initially occupied the shops; the present tenants are jewellers, art dealers and souvenir sellers. It has been described as Europe's oldest wholly-stone, closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge,but there are far older segmental arch bridges such as Alconétar Bridge. The Ponte Vecchio's two neighbouring bridges are the Ponte Santa Trinità and the Ponte alle Grazie.
Built very close to the Roman crossing, the Old Bridge was until 1218 the only bridge across the Arno in Florence. The current bridge was rebuilt after a flood in 1345. During World War II it was the only bridge across the Arno that the fleeing Germans did not destroy. Instead they blocked access by demolishing the medieval buildings on each side. On November 4, 1966, the bridge miraculously withstood the tremendous weight of water and silt when the Arno once again burst its banks.
When the Medici moved from Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti, they decided they needed a connecting route from the Uffizi to the Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the Arno that would enable them to keep out of contact with the people they ruled. The result was the Corridoio Vasariano, built in 1565 by Vasari and which runs above the little goldsmiths' shops on the Ponte Vecchio.
There have been stores on the Ponte Vecchio since the 13th century. Initially, there were all types of shops, including butchers and fishmongers and later tanners, whose industrial waste caused a pretty rank stench. In 1593, Ferdinand I decreed that only goldsmiths and jewellers be allowed to have their stores on the bridge. Cellini, a 16th century goldsmith, is honoured with a bust on the bridge. By night, the wooden shutters of the shops make them look like suitcases and wooden chests, making it a very suggestive route to take along an evening passeggiata.