Ponte Sisto: Rome’s Renaissance Bridge

Connecting the Campo de’ Fiori area of the city centre to Via Giulia in hip Trastevere, Ponte Sisto is one of Rome’s most gorgeous bridges. It stands as a testament to the city’s rich history and architectural legacy.

Want to know more? Read on for my hand-picked Ponte Sisto facts and history.

graceful stone arches of ponte sisto across tiber river in rome

Ponte Sisto is built on the remains of the Roman Pons Aurelius (or Pons Antoninus)

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (211-217), also known as Caracalla, built the first bridge at this spot. It was rebuilt by Valentinian I (364-375) and renamed Pons Valentiniani in his honour.

It was once known as Pons Ruptus

The bridge’s partial destruction by a flood in 792 left only one of its five arches intact. This earned it the name Broken Bridge (Pons Ruptus).

The bridge takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV

Pons Ruptus was rebuilt between 1473 and 1479 for Pope Sixtus IV, probably by the renowned architect Baccio Pontelli. This was the first Roman bridge since antiquity and is the bridge we see today.

Construction of a new bridge across the Tiber was considered necessary to allow the passage of Christian pilgrims into the Vatican from the left bank of the river.

A new street connecting it to the Vatican – Via Lungara – was built at the same time.

It is an architectural beauty

Built from tuff stone covered by travertine marble, Ponte Sisto is a testament to Renaissance architecture. Its architectural design, marked by four rounded arches and stone balustrades, reflects the artistic sensibilities of the time.

graceful stone arches of ponte sisto across tiber river in rome

Ponte Sisto has undergone several renovations and restorations

The most significant restoration took place in the 19th century under Pope Pius IX. It was beautifully restored in 2000 with  a new brick and travertine balustrade

It features a statue of St. Peter

St. Peter occupies a niche on the bridge. This addition was made during the 17th century by the sculptor Giovanni Antonio Paracca.

The bridge features an occhialone

In the centre of the bridge, there is a circular opening. This is known as an occhialone, or large eye, which serves as an early warning system for high water levels in the Tiber.  

The coat of arms of Sixtus IV is above the occhialone.

graceful stone arches of ponte sisto across river tiber in rome

Ponte Sisto has two Latin inscriptions

The first commemorates the building of the bridge by Pope Sixtus:

Sixtus IV, Supreme Pontiff, for the usefulness of the Roman people and of the multitude of pilgrims who will be coming to the Jubilee, with great care and expense, restored from the foundations this bridge which they properly were calling “Broken”, and he willed that it be called “Sisto” after his own name.

The second inscription gives thanks to Sixtus:

You who cross by the kindness of Sixtus IV, pray God to long save and protect for us our excellent supreme pontiff.  Fare well, whoever you are, when you will have prayed these things.

Ponte Sisto has inspired artists and musicians over the years

In the 1960s, the bridge became the setting for the popular Italian song Ponte Sisto by Claudio Villa. The lyrics captured the romantic essence of the bridge, making it a muse for creative expression.

a couple walking hand in hand across ponte sisto rome

Ponte Sisto plays a role in the summer festival of Fiume Tevere

During this event dedicated to the Tiber River, the bridge becomes a focal point for cultural activities. These include art installations, performances and festivities that showcase the role the Tiber plays in shaping the identity of Rome.

The bridge is associated with a dark legend

A ghost carriage is said to cross Ponte Sisto on January 7 each year. This carries the ghost of Donna Olimpia Pamphilj, sister-in-law of Pope Innocent X.

She is thrown from the Tiber, from where devils ferry her to Hell. Her sin? The most scandalous rumour accused her of being a lover of the pontiff.

Thank you for reading my Ponte Sisto facts

Ponte Sisto is centrally located but you can reach it on tram #8 and by city buses.

map showing location of ponte sisto bridge in rome
Ponte Sisto in Rome. Map data @ Google 2024.

If you would like to learn about other famous bridges in Rome, take a look at my guides to Ponte Fabricio, Ponte Milvio and Pont Sant’Angelo.