Archive for the ‘Living History’ Category

A few years ago, I read the novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Süskind – the main character, Grenouille, finds himself at one point in the story working for a perfumer, Baldini, whose store is one of many buildings located on a bridge over the Seine in Paris. I’ve since been intrigued by the idea of such bridges with multi-floor buildings on them, common in medieval times and surely bustling with people and commerce, indistinguishable from any street on shore. The famed London Bridge was another such example; like most others, it was eventually torn down to make way for newer structures.

Naturally, I was delighted to see the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy – one of the few remaining (if not the sole remaining, I wasn’t able to confirm) medieval bridges still housing merchants within. As you walk along the cobble-stone paved  (pedestrian only) bridge, you pass jewellery store after jewellery store lining both sides. The story goes that one of the de’ Medicis who ruled Florence at the time tossed out the butchers that used to be located on the bridge in favour of gold merchants – either because the smell of meat bothered him or he just wanted to class the joint up a bit.

Midway along the bridge, room was left for an open terrace with arches that offer a view of the Arno River – it’s the first reminder since stepping onto the bridge that you’ve left shore. Above the shops is a passageway built by another de’ Medici that connects the main town square to the Pitti Palace, supposedly so that he could travel between the two without mixing with the plebes below.

Closer look at the de' Medici passageway and the terrace at the centre of the bridge.

The Ponte Vecchio is also the first place I came across a modern tradition that has started to plague many destinations: young lovers locking padlocks to any of the various railings at each end or somewhere along the bridge and tossing the key into the river, symbolizing their everlasting bond (gack). It seems like a silly, romantic kind of thing to do, but it creates a real eyesore in the places where people have taken to doing this and a hassle for city officials who must continually remove them and repair the damage caused by this practice. You can’t pass a post that doesn’t have hundreds of old locks crammed onto any available spot in a jumbled mess, a sad fate for such a pretty piece of history.

And so with that, I’ve taken the Wiccan Rede as my travel credo and hope that more do the same: An it harm none, do what ye will.


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