Most of the bridges across the River Arno in Florence have a story to tell and Ponte alle Grazie is no exception.
Dive into Florence’s past and treat yourself to some of the best views in town by taking a closer look at this historic bridge.
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Ponte alle Grazie: Facts & Figures
Built between 1955 and 1957, Ponte alle Grazie is just downstream of the Ponte Vecchio, one of Florence’s most famous landmarks.
it spans the widest point of the River Arno in central Florence, connecting the historical city centre near Basilica di Santa Croce on one side of the Arno with the Boboli Gardens in the Oltrarno. Over one hundred meters long, it rises to a height of 10.5 meters and is over 15 metres wide.
History of Ponte alle Grazie
Today’s bridge is not the first that has straddled this point of the Arno.
A bridge first appeared here in 1227. Built from stone, it was called Ponte di Rubaconte, in honour of the podestà (mayor), Rubaconte da Mandello, who had commissioned it.
In 1345, Ponte di Rubaconte was rebuilt with nine arches to a design by architect Lapo Tedesco. He was the architect who was also responsible for one of Florence’s most famous buildings, Palazzo del Bargello, now the Bargello Museum.
The bridge lost two of its arches in 1346- 1347 when they were filled in to make way for widening Piazza dei Mozzi in the Oltrarno.
Buildings on Ponte alle Grazie
At this time the bridge was home to small buildings.
On the city side, there was a small oratory with a revered icon of the Madonna Alle Grazie. This gave the bridge its current name in the 14th Century
The structures on top of its piers were either chapels dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Saint Barbara and Saint Lawrence, or were refuges for female hermits or romite. Wishing to avoid the scandals of some of the nunneries in the city, these women set up home here, receiving food donations through small slots.
In 1876, these dwellings were demolished to make way for pavements and tramways. By this time, the hermitages had been cleared and the remaining romite moved to a convent near Santa Croce.
Around the same time, the number of arches on Ponte alle Grazie was further reduced to six, to make way for a planned river embankment.
Demolition by the retreating Nazis (and its rebuilding)
The revised Ponte alle Grazie did not last long.
In the summer of 1944, the Arno became a defensive line during Germany’s slow and painful retreat across central Italy at the end of World War II. Before they left Florence, the Germans destroyed all of the bridges in Florence, sparing only the centre section of the Ponte Vecchio,
Unperturbed, the Florentines set about rebuilding each and every bridge over the River Arno. In keeping with Florentine artistic tradition, the city authorities held a competition to create a new design for a replacement for Ponte alle Grazie.
The winning entry was from a group of architects, led by Giovanni Michelucci, and the engineer, Piero Melucci. Michelucci was also responsible for Florence’s Santa Maria Novella train station.
Today’s Ponte alle Grazie
The current incarnation of Ponte alle Grazie was completed in 1957.
Supported by four slender piers, the design is modern yet harmonises with the city. This may be in part due to treating the reinforced concrete with pietraforte, a type of sandstone used in Florence’s medieval palaces.
From Ponte alle Grazie there are some of the best views in Florence.
In one direction, there’s the iconic Ponte Vecchio. On the banks of the Oltrarno to the east, there’s Piazzale Michelangelo and San Niccolò tower.
Modern Sculptures on Ponte alle Grazie
Florence is famous for its work of sculpture from the glory days of the Renaissance, but Ponte alle Grazie is home to a different style of art.
The Common Man statue by the French artist Jean Marie Clet Abraham is intended as a sign of hope, energy and courage.
The man is taking a step into nothingness, but he’s confident and knows that he can do it. We all need to think like that.Jean Marie Clet Abraham
Explore More Bridges in Florence
Ambling along the Arno is an excellent way to get your bearings in Florence and learn more about its history. Walk in the footsteps of the Medici and Michelangelo by following the curve of the River Arno.
But if you want to view them from another angle, why not take a boat trip along the Arno?
Benefit from a live guide during this 60-90 minute boat tour in a barchetto, a traditional wooden boat. There’s even a glass of wine thrown in.
Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.
Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.
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