Ponte Sant’Angelo is one of the most beautiful bridges in Rome and one of the oldest. Also known as the Bridge of Castel Sant’Angelo or the Bridge of Angels, it connects Piazza di Ponte Sant’Angelo on the River Tiber’s left bank (east side) with the Vatican City Area.
Want to find out more? Read on for my hand-picked Ponte Sant’Angelo facts and to discover its rich – and sometimes gruesome – history.
Ponte Sant’Angelo is one of only two surviving Ancient Roman Tiber bridges
The Bridge of Angels was built in 134 AD by Emperor Hadrian to connect the centre of Ancient Rome with his newly built mausoleum, now Castel Sant’Angelo, with Rome’s historic centre. At the time, it was called Aelian Bridge or Pons Aelius (Bridge of Hadrian).
It is the second-oldest surviving bridge in Rome after Ponte Fabricio.
It took its current name in the 7th Century
Legend has it that the Archangel Michael appeared to Pope Gregory I, perched on the top of Castel Sant’Angelo, sword drawn, to banish the plague of 590 A.D. The bridge was named in his honour.
It was once called The Bridge of St Peter
For many years Ponte Sant’Angelo was the only route to St. Peter’s Basilica available to Christian pilgrims. In 1450, the balustrade of the bridge collapsed under the weight of the pilgrims, drowning 172 people in the Tiber.
The bridge has five stone arches, supported by seven-meter-high piers
Its three central arches are part of the original structure; the end arches were restored and enlarged at the end of the 19th Century during construction of the Lungotevere. This project destroyed two Roman ramps that connected the bridge to the riverbank.
The bridge is clad in travertine, a local limestone.
Ponte Sant’Angelo is a pedestrian-only bridge
It is famous for its angel statues
Ponte Sant-Angelo’s angel statues, five on either side of the bridge, steal the show. Once dubbed Bernini’s Breezy Maniacs, this Baroque parade represents Christ’s Passion.
Pope Clement IX commissioned these statues in 1669. They were designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and mostly executed by his pupils in 1688.
Each statue is made from marble and the angels hold an instrument of the Passion, ready to offer to passersby. The statues’ bases are inscribed with biblical verses.
Two of the Ponte Sant’Angelo statues are replicas
The angel with the scroll and the one holding the crown of thorns are glorious fakes. The originals are in the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte, near Piazza di Spagna.
These weren’t the first statues to grace the Bridge of the Angels
In 1535, Pope Clement VII raised money through bridge tolls to erect statues of the apostles Saint Peter (by Lorenzetto) and Saint Paul (by Paolo Romano) at the ends of the bridge.
Ponte Sant’Angelo was once a ghoulish Rome attraction
From the 16th Century, the bodies of those who were executed in the adjoining Piazza di Ponte were displayed on the bridgehead. This gruesome warning was discontinued in the 19th Century.
Thank you for reading my collection of Ponte Sant’Angelo facts
The bridge is a 10-minute walk from either St Peter’s Basilica or Piazza Navona in the heart of Rome’s historical centre. Lepanto is the closest metro station and buses 87 and 46 stop nearby.