The bridge was built with houses running the length of it, a common practice during the time in Europe. Originally they butchers, tanners and the like sold their wares from these structures on the bridge, dumping their refuse into the Arno river below. Eventually, they were replaced with goldsmiths.
During World War II, all the bridges in Florence were destroyed, with the exception of the Ponte Vecchio, which Hitler is said to have spared because it was too beautiful to destroy.
Today the bridge is still home to many jewellers and other merchants, from the extravagant to the touristy souveniers. In the centre of the bridge, on either side, you will find three arches which overlook the Arno river. These are usually packed with photograph-taking tourists.
My favourite time to walk along the bridge is in the early morning hours, particularly in the winter, outside of tourist season. Though the shops may not be open, the normally busy bridge is mostly void of people and you can truly appreciate the architectural beauty of the bridge.