Marco’s Florence – The Four Seasons of Ponte Santa Trinita
December 6, 2012 by TravelsAcrossItaly
Ponte Santa Trinita Florence
We walk across them everyday, these beautiful bridge of Florence, yet rarely if ever do we take the time to reflect on their history and beauty. I wanted to create a post about one of the most beautiful bridges in the world, the Ponte Santa Trinita.
She has been destroyed by the Arno River’s fury three times in her history. Near the end of World War II, she was destroyed by man’s hands in the name of war. Yet, she survives. Her sunrise golden spans arching across her purpose, and her sunset shimmering reflection reason for pause.
As the city of Florence has grown, so has the number of bridges that span the Arno River. Once a heavily used source of commerce, the river has remained as unpredictable and temperamental as she has ever been. During the early 13th Century, a wooden bridge that stood for nearly fifty years was swept away in a flood. Replaced based on a design by Renaissance architect Taddeo Gaddi (his design offered a total of five arches across the river), the river again claimed it in a flood in the mid-16th Century.
A promising architect by the name of Bartolomeo Ammannati, who was born in Settignano, a town well known to Michelangelo, was commissioned in 1569 to create a bridge that would, with all of that time’s engineering knowledge, withstand future floods. Ammannati studied under Jacopo Sansovino , a passionate student of Michelangelo’s structural designs. Bartolomeo proposed a design of three wide and shallow arches, graceful and strong, to cross the river.
Ammannati designed prow-like supports for the bridge. These have been the saving graces for all of the floods that have followed the bridge’s construction. Water, fast moving or slow, is directed away from the supports and directs the strongest currents and all of the detritus that floods bring between the arches and away from further damage to the structure.
Over the course of the next four hundred years, the bridge remained strong. It took the hand of man, in August 1944, to destroy the bridge. As the German’s retreated north along the Italian peninsula, one of their primary goals was to slow the allied advances. On August 8th of 1944, the Germans blew up all of the bridges across the Arno, yet thankfully saved the Ponte Vecchio. It was not until 1958, after excavations retrieved most of the original stones (some additional stones required were quarried from the same quarry used by the Renaissance builders), from the riverbed.
Ponte Santa Trinita
What happened to the head? An interesting mystery.
As part of the celebrations for the marriage of Grand Duke Ferdinand I de Medici and Christine of Lorraine, four statues the represented Roman Gods were placed at each corner of the bridge. The four statues were temporary and, after the festivities concluded, sculptors were named to carve four marble statues representing the four seasons to replace those temporary pieces: Fall (Giovanni Caccini) and Winter (Taddeo Landini) on the Otrarno (south) side, with Spring (Pietro Francavilla) and Summer (Giovanni Caccini) on the Santa Trinita (north) side of the bridge.
The only piece missing, after the German destruction and the 1958 restoration, was the head of the statue of Spring.
If there is a group of art experts in the world who can locate and restore missing pieces of art, it is the Italians. The search continued until 1961 when an excavator discovered the missing head, deeply buried in the centuries old mud beneath the bridge. To much pomp and ceremony, the head was re-attached and celebrated. A mystery solved.
IF YOU GO:
The Ponte Santa Trinita connects the north side of the city, near the church which gave its name to the span-Chiesa Santa Trinita-with the Oltrarno, the south side neighborhood of the river.
Best views are at sunrise from the mid-span of the Ponte Vecchio and at sunset from the next bridge west of the Ponte Santa Trinita, the Ponte alla Carraia.
Take a moment, the next time you are in Florence, to give a few minutes pause to the history that supports us as we cross the ever-unpredictable River Arno.
Evening View-Ponte Santa Trinita