by Marine Le Canne
Renowned for its artisan workshops, the Oltrarno has been known for its industrial production since the medieval era. In fact, the characterization of these workshops along specific streets is still evident today. However, with the transfer of the ducal Medici residence to Palazzo Pitti in the mid-sixteenth century, the neighborhood became popular for the gentry.
Access to the Oltrarno was a privilege, and it could be accessed by Ponte Vecchio and Ponte Santa Trinita. Described by the Florentine Giovanni Spadolini as “one of the most beautiful bridges in all of Italy, and amongst one of the most elegant in Europe,” Ponte Santa Trinita was built from wood in 1252, with the patronage of the Frescobaldi family, and took its name from the nearby church of Santa Trinita. In 1259 the bridge collapsed due to the high number of people on it watching a spectacle on the Arno. It was rebuilt out of stone, but gave way once again in 1333 when the Arno flooded. That year, only Ponte alle Grazie was spared. The following reconstruction was slow and lasted about 50 years, from 1356 to 1415. The next flood was in 1557, and its reconstruction led to the modern-day structure of the bridge. Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici commissioned architect Bartolomeo Ammannati with the design, who was also advised by Michelangelo. Michelangelo was the one who suggested the use of three arches, which he had already studied with the tombs of the Medici chapels and the vestibule of the Laurentian Library. The curved lines that were used in the design of the bridge were an innovation that anticipated the Baroque style, but which also had an important technical aspect, due to their resistance to static. The bridge was designed with a catenary shape, resembling a parabola, and in addition to arches decorated with white scrolls, it featured elegant supporting pylons with a horizontal section at acute angles to prevent trunks from getting entangled under the bridge. There were also four statues on the bridge, depicting the four seasons, added in 1608 to celebrate the wedding of Cosimo II and Maria Magdalena of Austria.
Ponte Santa Trinita was once again destroyed by the retreating German army on August 4, 1944. Luigi Bellini created a committee called Come era e dove era (‘How it was and where it was’), for the reconstruction of the bridge, which sparked a civil debate between intellectuals, art historians and architects. The bridge’s original stones were salvaged from the Arno and it was rebuilt using ancient techniques and by utilizing the Boboli Gardens quarry, reopened for the first time since the sixteenth century. Ponte Santa Trinita was inaugurated on May 16, 1958. The four original statues were found in the Arno, but the head belonging to the spring statue remained lost. It was in the 1960s that the antiquarian Bellini posted a flyer promising a reward of $5000 for the head. It was finally found in the Arno in 1961 after an extensive search, providing inspiration for the film Miracle at St Anna.
Moving away from the city center and towards Via Tornabuoni, Ponte Santa Trinita leads us across the Arno and into the most authentic part of Florence, also providing a splendid view (particularly at sunset) of Ponte Vecchio on the way.