Normally, Ms. Garmin directs me to the front gate of a UNESCO World Heritage villa that bears the imprint of High Renaissance master builder Andrea Palladio, the architect of Palladianism.
However, this time around, I have to walk a fair amount of cobble in order to frame the only timber bridge designed and realized by the Maestro: the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) of Bassano del Grappa, at the foot of Monte Grappa in the province of Vicenza in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy.
Straddling both sides of the Brenta River, the bridge stands above the flow as it passes through the Valbrenta on its way to the Adriatic Sea just south of the Venetian lagoon.
The original wooden bridge, built in 1209, was swept away by raging flood waters in the fall of 1567. Following that disaster, Palladio was commissioned by the City of Bassano to rebuild on the exact spot where the original expanse once stood.
So, back to the drawing board the Maestro went, and in the summer of 1569 Palladio presented his design for a timber-truss bridge that somewhat resembled the original, but was radically different with its technical and structural innovations — four trapezoidal piers and a deck covered with a continuous roof supported by Tuscan order columns — and its elegant look.
Palladio’s original construction stood for nearly 200 years until the Ponte Vecchio was destroyed in 1748 by yet another violent flood.
It was rebuilt exactly as Palladio designed it and stood again until it fell victim to a fire in 1813. Rebuilt once more to Palladio’s specifications, it was sabotaged and collapsed during the end of World War II.
Resurrected one final time, in 1948, by engineers of the Associazione Nazionale Alpini (National Association of Alpini) — Italy’s elite mountain infantry soldiers, the ones sporting a black feather in their caps, who bid farewell to their sweethearts before marching across the Brenta on their way to the front lines during both world wars — it was rechristened Ponte degli Alpini (Bridge of the Alpini).
Bassano del Grappa, the Town of Fine Arts, is home to world-famous ceramics, prized white asparagus and strong, aromatic grappas — the grape pulp-based brandy that is the preferred beverage of gli Alpini and local bassanesi alike — is best known and revered for the iconic bridge that Palladio built across the Brenta in full view of Monte Grappa.
You owe it to yourself to stop by sometime and take a stroll back into history on the bridge that Palladio re-built.
©The Palladian Traveler