Too good to be true: dawn in Florence | Jack Marshall’s column

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By 2005, the city council of Florence had had enough. They were tired of amorous tourists leaving thick padlocks engraved in Sharpie with heartfelt pledges of devotion and love attached to one of the city’s most historic landmarks. And so they dispatched a crack team of anti-Cupids armed with bolt-cutters to rid the Ponte Vecchio of over 5,500 love-locks.

Comfortably in the top-10 most famous bridges in the world, the Ponte Vecchio spans the Arno at its narrowest point, with the current incarnation dating back to 1345. It’s hosted merchants’ shops since the day it opened and it’s so beautiful that rumour has it that Hitler refused to sack it during a German retreat.

To put it mildly, it’s a very famous bridge. Waxing throngs of phone-toting travellers can invariably be found swamping its flagstones, an interminable supply of beaming teenagers smiling and tilting their heads this way and that for Instagram as the sunlight bounces off the surging water below. Trillions of steps have been taken across it.

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On a recent holiday to the city, myself, my mother, and my brother all decided we wanted to cross the Ponte Vecchio at dawn, to watch the sunrise over the ancient golden city as this silent and empty stone monument from a different era starts its slow bake in the Tuscan heat. It was a chance we couldn’t pass up.

Dawn in FlorenceDawn in Florence
Dawn in Florence

Woken by 5.35am alarms, we crept out, careful not to wake the less wanderlust-driven members of our party. Pace quick in the cool morning, we slowed when at the bridge. It was deserted. Breath dampened by nerves and atmosphere, we softened our steps. Looking east, we searched for the sun’s light.

Then we realised we’d made an error. Gazing across the water, we saw only buildings backlit grandly by a rising sun which would take an hour to scale them. We waited, watching a hot air balloon on the opposite bank take off and disappear. We looked at each other, smiling wordlessly, then started home.

We didn’t see our sunrise, but the silence made it worth it, the weight of the centuries trodden into smooth stone beneath us. It was completely unforgettable.

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