The “Old Bridge” dates back to 1345, though it is believed that the first bridge built on the site – the narrowest point of the Arno River – was part of the via Cassia. Jewelry shops currently line the bridge – those house like buildings on the side are actually shops. Originally these shops were butchers and tanneries, who would drop their waste into the Arno below. The Medicis outlawed these shops in 1593 and the Gold merchants moved in.
Florence was occupied but the Nazis from 1943-1944, serving as the operational headquarters in Italy after they retreated from Rome. As the British troops pressed northward the Germans had to retreat again – the order was given to blow up all of the bridges over the Arno, with the intent to slow the British advance. The Ponte Vecchio was the only Florence bridge not destroyed – supposedly on a direct order from Hitler.