the ponte santa trinita

If you know just one bridge in Florence, know the Ponte Vecchio. If you know two bridges in Florence, make the second the Ponte Santa Trinita. The bridge of Santa Trinita lies in the shadow of the iconic Ponte Vecchio, just one bridge to its west, and is most often utilized as the perfect post-up for a view of the more popular ponte. The bridge that supports us as we pose for this year’s holiday card and connects us on our commute from shopping on Via Tornabuoni to lunch in Piazza Santo Spirito, allows us to come and go without much of a thought given to what carries us across the Arno. It keeps to itself and and in doing so remains, what I believe, is the Arno’s best kept secret.

Arno River in Florence

Ponte Santa Trinita by Craig Stanfill

Although the Ponte Santa Trinita may not have the wow factor of the Ponte Vecchio, it’s graceful architecture and decorative details make this bridge a stunner in its own right. The ponte is recognizable by three elegant arches and protruding pylons (a tempting/dangerous spot to enjoy the sunrise with a few fearless friends). Twisting, turning, shivering, and welcoming Mannerist statues that represent the four seasons greet pedestrians on each end. And what’s happening with those grimacing goats at the cusp of each arch? Read on ponte people…

Ponte Santa Trinita

Ponte Santa Trinita, by Giuseppe Martino

The original Ponte Santa Trinita, built in 1252, was a humble wooden structure connecting the north and south sides of the city. It adopted the name Santa Trinita from the nearby basilica at the north end of the bridge. Only seven years after its construction, the volatile Arno swept away the wooden bridge. Santa Trinita 2.0 was constructed with stone to withstand the fickle fury of the Arno. The stone bridge had a longer shelf life than the original wooden bridge, lasting until 1333, when the Arno reared its ugly head yet again. Renaissance architect Taddeo Gaddi was employed to build the third version of the ponte.

What Florentines had hoped would be the final masterpiece was yet again destroyed in the flood of 1557. The middle of the 16th century, however, was the grand era of the Medici dukes, and the family was more determined than ever to take every opportunity to leave their mark on the city. Duke Cosimo saw the destruction of the bridge as an opportunity to build a structure more impressive than ever before. The bridge would celebrate Cosimo and the Florentine victory over its rival, Siena. Cue the Capricorns–Cosimo’s zodiac.

Florence - jour 4 - 011 - Ponte Santa Trinita

Capricorn, Ponte Santa Trinita, by Romuald Le Peru

Michelangelo and Vasari were among the heavy hitting names whose hands can be found in the design of the bridge. Ultimately, the responsibility of rebuilding fell on architect Bartolomeo Ammannati. The design addressed the enemy waters of the Arno by incorporating protruding pylons from either side of each support of the bridge. The pylons direct raging waters away from the supports, giving the ponte the features it needed to finally stand up against the Arno.

Ponte Santa Trinita in Florence

Ponte Santa Trinita, by Craig Stanfill

In 1608, the bridge was embellished by four statues representing the seasons. Summer and Autumn, by Giovanni Caccini, Winter by Taddeo Landini, and the most famous, Spring by Pietro Francavilla. We would tell you who’s who, but we think you’ve got this. The statues were commissioned as part of the celebrations surrounding the marriage of Duke Cosimo II to the Archduchess of Austria.

Autumn Statue on Ponte Santa Trìnita

Autumn, Ponte Santa Trinita, photo by Ben Rimmer

For nearly four centuries, the bridge stood tall, carrying millions across the Arno as they explored Florence. Although outshone by the Ponte Vecchio, the bridge was celebrated for its gracefulness, beauty and impressive architecture.

Seemingly doomed, the bridge once again came down in 1944, but this time by the hands of men.
 By Dany Mitzman Florence Continue reading the main story In today's Magazine The men of steel with a softer side How accurate are 'due dates'? The palace of shame that makes China angry Getting lost in translation in Brazil In 1943, Italy officially changed sides in World War Two, making peace with the Allies against Nazi Germany. It was the beginning of a new chapter in the life of one little Jewish boy in Florence, Marcello Buiatti, whose family suddenly had to go into hiding. Via Faenza - a pedestrian street, five minutes' walk from Florence's main train station. Standing outside number 43, Marcello Buiatti takes in the surroundings. It has hardly changed in 70 years. A professor of genetics at Florence University, Buiatti was then a five-year-old boy. He remembers paratroopers floating down into the city in September 1943, when Italy signed an armistice with the Allies. "Everybody was happy because we thought it was Allied troops coming down and saving us from the Germans, but it was not," he says. He was with his mother - a Jew born in Poland and educated in Prague - at his father's office in the centre of town near the River Arno. Fortunately his father, a former military man, had used his connections to plan for this eventuality. Map of Florence The house in Via Faenza - owned by a Fascist who rejected ant-Semitism - was the ideal hiding place. An empty house with a chapel attached, built for the Templars in the 12th Century. Who would suspect it housed Jews? Two other Jewish families joined the Buiattis - a Hungarian friend and his son, and an elderly couple with two older boys who left to fight with the Resistance. Soon afterwards, Marcello's Polish cousin, "Aunty" Chaja, arrived, having escaped with the help of a partisan from an Italian concentration camp. While little has changed on the outside, the first-floor apartment where they all lived looks very different today. For the last 40 years, the building has been home to the Lorenzo de' Medici Italian International Institute, offering culture and language courses to foreign students. The kitchen and Marcello's bedroom are now administrative offices. The other rooms are classrooms. fresco in alcove But certain features bring memories flooding back. A small fresco painted in an alcove makes Marcello's eyes shine in recognition. "I remember this angel painted in this wall. My bedroom must have been just here. I remember it as a flash. I keep having flashes." At times disorientated, Marcello gradually regains his bearings. The office next to the angel alcove is the room they used as a kitchen. He remembers that they had a stove but not very much to eat. When they finished the reserves brought from his grandparents' farm in Friuli, north-east Italy, the partisans would bring them essential supplies. "There was a priest too. He knew we were Jewish. He sent little packages of edible things and he helped us. He sent them over the roof. The roof is always useful in these cases!" Marcello laughs, remembering another detail about this room - for a while they kept a live lamb here. "But nobody knew how to kill him, nobody wanted to kill him. Fortunately, that partisan who had saved my mother's cousin came visiting. He saw that lamb and said 'Why don't you eat him?' "'I can't kill him,' said my father. So he killed him and we ate it. I remember that it was fantastically good." Marcello also remembers the special job he had to do every evening after supper. Marcello Buiatti in 43 Via Faenza "I was supposed to turn on the radio at nine o'clock to listen to the Allied radio, who at that time always sent encrypted messages for the Resistance. And my father heard them and told the other people of the Resistance in Florence. So it was quite an important place, our house, for we were spreading the news to several groups of partisans." Partisans would often come and go from the house but, for Marcello, one was particularly special - a woman who taught him to read and write. "I have a wonderful memory of that lady. She would come at night. Late in the evening because it was dark. She could sneak into the house. She was very, very brave. She was a young lady, very beautiful, so I fell in love with her. It was a terrible thing when I heard that she had been killed by a bomb." There were frequent bombings while they were in hiding, during which the families would shelter in the chapel downstairs. Today, it has been restored but at the time it was a dusty, dingy, untidy place. Although he was rarely afraid during air raids spent in the chapel, Marcello does remember one terrifying episode when a German officer came in. "The Nazi entered from this door here, the front door of the chapel. And we were all lining that wall there. My mother became pale immediately, she was terribly scared. She squashed against the wall because she had blonde hair but she looked Jewish. This officer came inside. He thought we were just there to avoid bombs and said, 'Don't worry, the bombing is ending,' and smiled and went away. I don't know how nobody fainted." Marcello laughs at the absurdity of it. "He probably would have got a medal, for we were many Jews and partisans - 10, 12 people hiding in the place." Only one other episode truly frightened the young Marcello - the German bombing of all Florence's bridges apart from the Ponte Vecchio. Two base supports of the wrecked Santa Trinita Bridge over the Arno River, in Florence, Italy, are dynamited by British Eighth Army Engineers as they prepare the way for the Building of a Bailey Bridge in its place, August 24, 1944 British engineers dynamited what was left of the Santa Trinita bridge before replacing it with a Bailey bridge

British engineers dynamited what was left of the Santa Trinita bridge before replacing it with a Bailey bridge, BBC News Magazine

World War II had taken Europe, and somehow Florence had remained relatively unscathed. Described by Hitler himself as “the crown jewel of Europe” and as a city under fellow Axis power, Florence hoped that its precious treasures may remain intact. Unfortunately, when the Allied forces moved north towards Florence, Germans hastily retreated. In attempts to slow the enemy, Germans had every bridge in Florence, with the exception of the Ponte Vecchio, destroyed.

The Ammannati bridge that was supposed to last an eternity came crumbling down in a matter of minutes. After the German retreat, the British military had the remains of the bridge leveled and constructed a simple wooden Bailey Bridge. It transported Florentines between north and south Florence for 14 years.

American art historian Bernard Berenson was actively involved in fundraising for the reconstruction of the historic bridge. By 1955, foreigners, Florentines, and the Italian government had come together to raise funds to begin the arduous chore of attempting to replicate the Ponte Santa Trinita with as much of the original materials as could be salvaged. The Arno was damned, and every last stone that could be recovered from the original bridge was gathered.

Meanwhile, appointed architect Riccardo Gizdulich fervently studied original designs by Ammanati and chiseling techniques of the 16th-century masons who shaped the stones of the bridge. Gizdulich insisted upon his artisans using the same tools that Ammannati would have had his men use 400 years prior. To replace the stone that had been swept off by the Arno, Gizdulich even tapped the same quarry that Ammannati used in the Boboli Gardens. As for the statues of the four seasons, they were found in the rubble at the base of the bridge. All that is, but the head of Spring. The bridge was dedicated in 1958, despite poor Spring’s lack of a head.

Italians, familiar with tracking down their precious works of art, were on a mission to solve the mystery of the missing head. During this time, legends were spun about her whereabouts. Some believed a German soldier had stolen her and that the head gave him the power to become invisible. Stories like these would later inspire movies such as the Miracle at Santa Anna. Despite the intrigue, the head was discovered in 1961 by a diver, deep in the silt of the Arno. With the re-heading of Spring, the Ponte Santa Trinita was restored to its “original” Medician glory.

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Spring, Ponte Santa Trinita, Jim Gourley

The Ponte Santa Trinita may not be able to boast the fame or longevity of the Ponte Vecchio. However, its story is the story of Florence. As the city was wrecked by flood, glorified under the Medici Dukes and ravished by war, so was the bridge. The ponte is a true Florentine. So today, instead of heading to the Ponte Santa Trinita, we encourage you to take a trip to the Ponte Vecchio–the best vantage point for your postcard-perfect view of the Ponte Santa Trinita.

 

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5 comments

  1. This was a ripper of a post, thank you! And, thank goodness for the tenacity of Riccardo Gizdulich in ensuring this piece of Florentine history was restored.

  2. What a great post! Anyone who comes to Florence needs to read this, bringing – as you state so well – the history of this city all into perspective.

  3. […] to the city, but it also hosted Duke Cosimo de’ Medici’s morning swims and inspired bridges designed by Michelangelo himself. Today, it’s often used by crew teams to practice […]

  4. […] old bridges:  The Ponte Vecchio (known for the many jewelry shops that adorn the bridge) and the Ponte Santa Trinita (which was designed by Michelangelo and features four statues on its ends representing the four […]

  5. […] noble Rucellai family in 1583, who commissioned architect Bartolomeo Ammannati (known for the Santa Trinità bridge in Florence) to create a loggia and gallery.  During the 18th century, the building was later […]

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