Hitler and the Ponte Vecchio
Historical rumours are fast becoming one of my new favourite things. They are unlike the everyday rumours that gossipmongers whisper to each other with satisfyingly cheeky smirks on their faces. Oh no – those rumours can be stopped when the tales have been circulated so far they’ve done a full rotation and ended up being shared with the subject of the gossip. Historical rumours are the complete opposite because the more they are spread, the longer the passage of time, and less the likelihood anyone will actually know the truth.
You hear them all the time as a tourist. There’s always a historical figure or a landmark event, no matter how obtuse, that somehow relates to the place you’re visiting. Perpetuated by guidebooks, tour operators, and even blogs, a tall tale becomes a fable and then morphs into truth.
The latest one I’ve been told concerns the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. It’s probably one of the most famous historical bridges in Europe, mainly for its history than its aesthetics, I imagine. Built with shops and enclosed passageways, it looks slightly like a mobile home was washed away in a flood and got stuck between two banks of the river.
One important person took a liking to it, apparently. And that brings me to the rumour. While all the other bridges of Florence were being bombed during the Second World War, one remained standing. The Ponte Vecchio never came under attack and the legend the tour guides spread is that the only reason it was spared was because Hitler liked it.
Shopping on the Ponte Vecchio
We’ll probably never know if that’s actually true. Regardless, the bridge clearly has value – if only for the dozens of jewellery stores it is now home to. Since the late 16th century, the shops on the bridge have sold gold, silver and jewels. Before then, it was the butchers who took residence on the Ponte Vecchio but the Medici family, who used the corridor on the second level as a pathway across the river, decided the odour of the raw meat was too ghastly a smell for them as they passed by.
These days it’s one of the top tourist attractions in Florence. Some come for the architecture and some come for the shopping (mainly window shopping it seemed, when I visited). But with centuries of history – and a rumour or two from more recent times – many also come for the history.
What are some of the best historical rumours you’ve ever heard as a tourist?
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