Ponte Sant'Angelo | History & Info About the Bridge of Angels
Emperor Hadrian constructed a bridge in 136 CE to enable access to his tomb from the city center. But, it was Bernini who gave it life in 1668 by sculpting the angel sculptures that stand tall on the bridge. The travertine marble bridge spans the Tiber River and has five arches, three of which are Roman. The bridge is now only used by pedestrians and offers a beautiful view of Castel Sant'Angelo. Find out more about the bridge, its history, and the statues that adorn it.
What is the Ponte Sant’Angelo?
The Ponte Sant'Angelo is an ancient Roman bridge made up of five stone arches with five main spans of around 18 meters each, all supported by seven-meter-high piers. Built by Roman Emperor Hadrian, the bridge was originally called Aelian Bridge or Pons Aelius.
Pope Clement VII erected statues of Saints Peter and Paul, in the 16th century at the ends of the bridge. The parapets were adorned with ten more angel statues created by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1688. In today's world, these statues are extremely valuable and noteworthy.
Ponte Sant’Angelo History In A Minute
- Ponte Sant'Angelo, or the Bridge of St. Angelo, was built about 1,900 years ago and is one of just two ancient Roman Tiber River bridges that still survive today.
- After Nero's Bridge was destroyed, travelers were obliged to cross this bridge to access St Peter's Basilica, earning it the nickname "bridge of Saint Peter".
- Both the castle and the bridge were given the name Sant'Angelo in the sixth century by Pope Gregory I after he had a vision of an angel appearing on the roof of the castle to signal the end of the epidemic.
- The bridge was used to expose the bodies of those killed in the adjoining Piazza del Ponte for years after the 16th century.
- In 1669, Pope Clement IX commissioned Bernini to replace the aging stucco angels on the bridge.
- The two Roman ramps that connected the bridge to the two banks were destroyed during the construction of the Lungotevere at the end of the nineteenth century. Two similar arches were erected in their place.
- The bridge is now only for pedestrians, and it offers a beautiful perspective of Castel Sant'Angelo.
Ponte Sant’Angelo Angels
Pope Clement VII erected a toll on Ponte Sant'Angelo in the 16th century and used the proceeds to erect statues of St. Peter and St. Paul. The bridge was embellished in 1688 with ten angel statues, five on either side of the bridge, all sculpted by Lorenzo Bernini. Each angel carries an emblem of Jesus' death and suffering.
Angel Carrying the Column
This angel carries a column that represents the pillar to which Christ was chained while being whipped. You can also see the inscription: “My throne is upon a column.”
Angel Carrying the Scourge
The second angel shows the angel holding the whip used by the Romans to torment Jesus while he was bound to the column. Created by Lazzaro Morelli, the inscription on the sculpture reads, “I’m ready for the scourge.”
Angel Carrying the Crown of Thorns
The crown, which was placed on Christ's head, appears on this sculpture. It was sculpted by Pablo Naldini and completed by Bernini himself. The inscription reads, “The thorn is fastened upon me.”
Angel Carrying the Sudarium
The angel is seen displaying Veronica's Veil, left with the impression of Jesus' face after it was used to wipe the sweat and blood from his face as he carried the cross to his crucifixion. The inscription reads, "Look upon the face of your Christ". The base of this angel has been dented by a cannonball discharged during the papal defense of the Vatican in 1870.
Angel Carrying the Garment and Dice
Sculpted by Paolo Naldini, the statue represents the moment when Roman soldiers cast dice to determine who would receive Christ's seamless robe. The dice are held by the angel in the piece of cloth she clutches between her hands. “For my clothing, they cast lots," reads the inscription.
Angel Carrying the Nails
The nails used to stake Christ to the cross features in this sculpture. This angel is distinct in that her body is disproportionately huge in comparison to her head, her features are unusual and her face is slim. The angel's right hand extends to present a nail, while her left hand holds two more nails. “They will look upon me whom they have pierced," reads the inscription.
Angel Carrying the Cross
Sculpted by Ercole Ferrata, the inscription on this statue reads, “Dominion rests on his shoulders". The cross represents the cross that Christ was forced to carry through Jerusalem before being crucified. The sculpture is inferior to the others on the bridge in that it appears to be a two-dimensional relief sculpture rather than an unbounded three-dimensional artwork.
Angel Carrying the Superscription
The eighth angel, officially entrusted to Giulio Cartari is a replica of Bernini's work. The angel's superscription reads INRI, which stands for "Jesus of Nazarene, King of the Jews" portrays the sign nailed to the cross over Jesus' head. It almost appears that the drapery was added after the body sculpture was completed. The inscription on this angel reads, “God has reigned from the tree”, referring to the wood of the cross.
Angel Carrying the Sponge
According to the gospels of Matthew and Mark, one of the soldiers who crucified Jesus placed a sponge smeared in vinegar on a stick and pressed it to Jesus' lips right before he died. The ninth angel, by Antonio Giorgetti, is shown observing the scene with deep sorrow. The inscription reads, “They gave me vinegar to drink.”
Angel Carrying the Lance
The lance represents the weapon that Roman soldiers used to pierce Jesus' side, piercing his chest and confirming his death before lowering him off the cross. The tenth angel, sculpted by Domenico Guidi, shows the lance being held near to the angel's body. The inscription reads, “You have ravished my heart”.
Plan Your Visit to Castel Sant'Angelo
All Your Questions about Ponte Sant’Angelo Answered
A. Ponte Sant'Angelo is a Roman bridge built by Roman Emperor Hadrian to span River Tiber from the city center to his mausoleum.
A. Ponte Sant’Angelo was built in 134 AD.
A. Ponte Sant'Angelo was built by Emperor Hadrian.
A. Ponte Sant'Angelo is located across the river Tiber in front of Castel Sant'Angelo.
A. Ponte Sant'Angelo started off serving Municipal functions. It then became the bridge that granted direct access to St. Peter’s Basillica. The bridge was later used to expose the bodies of those killed in the adjoining Piazza del Ponte.
A. There are twelve angels in all on the Ponte Sant’Angelo.
A. Yes, Ponte Sant'Angelo is one of just two ancient Roman Tiber River bridges that still survive today.
A. Yes, Ponte Sant’Angelo is wheelchair accessible.
A. Since Ponte Sant’Angelo is a pedestrian bridge, you don’t need tickets to access the bridge itself.
A. Yes, you can get access to Ponte Sant’Angelo with the Castel Sant’Angelo tickets.
A. Castel Sant’Angelo tickets can be bought online.