Last spring, the Kimbell Art Museum in Ft. Worth, Texas hosted the exhibition Bernini: Sculpting in Clay. It was at that exhibition, I realized that even after multiple trips to Rome, I’d never actually walked across the Ponte Sant Angelo.
The original bridge, called Pons Aelius, was constructed in 136 A.D., during the time of Hadrian. Hadrian wanted to connect the city of Rome with his tomb, now known as Castello Sant Angelo.
In 590 A.D., rumour has it that an archangel appeared atop the Castello and the bridge was renamed Ponte Sant Angelo, or bridge of the angel.
Later, the bridge was part of the walking route used by pilgrims visiting St. Peter’s Cathedral in the city of Rome.
When you walk across the Ponte Sant Angelo, you’ll be accompanied by ten stunning sculptures of angels. The ten angels were not always there, of course. They were added in 1668 by order of Pope Clements IX. He engaged the fabulous Bernini to sculpt ten angels, each holding something to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus.
As you may have guessed by this postcard, I finally walked across the bridge. I can now scratch that off my Bernini bucket list.
Tip: Try getting up early and beating the crowds, if you can. It’s really nice to be able to study each angel at leisure without distraction. It’s also a great time to take photographs as the sun slowly moves west, illuminating the bridge and St.Peter’s cathedral on the other side.
Though there are ten angels, Bernini only sculpted two of them; his apprentices sculpted the other eight. Pope Clements thought the Bernini angels were so beautiful, he didn’t want them exposed to the elements. Bernini’s two angels, one holding the crown of thorns, the other holding the INRI sign, now live in the church Sant Andrea della Fratte, not far from the Spanish Steps. It’s not usually crowded there, so if you go to see them, you can worship at the altar of Bernini in relative peace and quiet. It is a working church and hours are limited. Be sure to check visiting hours before you go.
If you are a fan of Bernini or just interested in the history of Rome and the Catholic church, visiting the bridge is an interesting and easy attraction to work into your day, especially if you’re planning on visiting St.Peter’s Cathedral and the Vatican Museums.
One more tip: when I was on the bridge, I noticed something else that I had not noticed before: the beautiful reflection of the bridge on the water of the Tiber river. Rome always reveals just a little bit more than you expect.