Panorama august 31, 2012
The Ponte Sant’Angelo in Rome provides a dramatic approach to Castel Sant’Angelo, which was once the mausoleum of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and later a papal fortress. (Photos by Laura Byrd)
The angels along the Ponte Sant’Angelo in Rome were designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the famous Baroque sculptor.
Ponte Sant'Angelo — Rome’s Bridge of Angels Story and photos by Laura Byrd
A view of Rome’s Ponte Sant’Angelo, which is lined with statues of angels.
An angel with enormous wings is standing in front of me, her robe billowing around her, a spear lifted in her arms. Gazing up at the fluid image crafted in white marble, I wonder if there was a flesh and blood woman known to the artist who served as a model for her face. At the base an inscription reads, “Vulnerasti cor meum,” (thou hast ravished my heart). It’s easy to be transfixed by the Ponte Sant’Angelo in Rome. A bridge originally built in A.D. 134, it was known in medieval times as the Bridge of St. Peter, and served as a route across the Tiber River for visitors to Saint Peter’s Basilica. Centuries later the name was changed in honor of the legend that an angel had appeared to the pope after the Plague of A.D. 590, signaling the end of pestilence for Rome. Walking throughout the heart of Rome, dramatic Baroque sculptures created during the 16th and 17th centuries abound. Some of the most famous, including the 10 sculptures that line the Ponte Sant’Angelo, were designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. A master sculptor fulfilling his last commission, Bernini personally carved two of the bridge sculptures (which were later relocated to a Roman church) while the remaining were by sculpted from his drafts. The artistic genius behind Saint Peter’s Square, Bernini left a legacy
of sculptural works throughout Rome, and masterpieces like his Apollo and Daphne draw millions of visitors each year. But this stunning array of lifelike angels is only briefly mentioned in all three of the guidebooks we have on hand. Sitting in the shadow of the world’s largest church and nearby Vatican City, the Ponte Sant’Angelo bridge feels like a bit of a discovery. A pedestrian walkway that connects both sides of the Tiber River, the bridge is crowned with the Castel Sant’Angelo on one end. The castle was built as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian, but later became a fortress to protect the popes, and eventually a prison. Today the fortress it is both an exhibit hall and museum, with concerts taking place inside during summer evenings. The atmosphere around the castle grounds is relaxed and easy, with people sitting in the shade, taking in views of the river, the bridge and the ten glorious angels adorning it — so animated, I can almost imagine them moving. Strolling across the stone bridge in both directions, I’m reminded that at one time during its long history, bodies of the executed hung from it. It seems momentarily ironic that the angels were put here, but maybe that was the point. Maybe their presence here since the 17th century was intended to be purifying and a counterbalance to the violent history at this apex of Christianity. Walking the opposite direction from Saint Peter’s and away from the bridge, there are vendors selling leather goods, food and jewelry out of white tents that dot the pathway. Two blocks away is the Hall of Justice.
Streets of Italy Join columnist Laura Byrd as she explores things to do in the Naples Laura Byrd area and easy daytrips to places throughout Italy.
An imposing building with bronze statues of judges and attorneys facing the river, the judicial palace is flanked by the sprawling, park-like Piazza Cavour. A sea of lawn as pristine as a golf course, it’s immaculately groomed, and a few people are sitting in the shade of palm trees enjoying the breeze. Center stage in the square is a bronze monument of Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, who was a leader in the unification of Italy. What strikes me the most, however, are the two bronze figures below Cavour that depict Rome and the rest of Italy, each personified as a female warrior. Both figures seem at peace, one seated, one standing. I’m feeling like a tiny piece of Rome has revealed itself without thousands of tour guides and tour buses devouring it. I’m coming back soon to explore more and appreciate what is probably Rome’s most beautiful bridge. A bridge guarded by angels, which leads to both the heart of Christianity and a symbol of unification in Italy.
The Ponte Sant’Angelo, or “Bridge of Angels,” gets its name from the legend that an angel appeared to the pope after the Plague of A.D. 590, heralding the end of the epidemic.