back to the DISTRICT INDEX back to the MAIN INDEX

Ponte ("bridge") refers to the ancient Pons Elius (now Ponte S.Angelo), the bridge that emperor Hadrian (Publius Elius Hadrianus) had built in 136 AD to access his own monumental tomb. The bridge, though, now belongs to the neighbor Rione XIV, Borgo.
Pons Elius is the only one among the ancient bridges which in almost 2,000 years never collapsed, despite the many floods.
coat of arms of Ponte district
Besides Ponte S.Angelo, now the district has also three more bridges connecting it with Borgo (R.XIV) and Prati (R.XXII).
Instead, in the early imperial age another local bridge was Pons Triumphalis (Triumphal or Nero's Bridge), built in the 1st century AD to provide a direct access from the city to Nero's Circus, in the Vatican area. It was deliberately destroyed in the 6th century during Rome's siege by the Goths, to prevent them from entering the city across the bridge. When the Tiber's water level is low, especially in summertime, a few remains of its pillars may be seen from the nearby modern Vittorio Emanuele Bridge: they are shown as a dotted line in the small map further down in the page.

The district's mediaeval name, Regio Pontis et Scortichiariorum, was referred to Ponte S.Angelo and to the workshops where animal skins were treated for the making of leather and suede, an activity which was also popular in the neighbor Rione VII, Regola.

A bridge, whose two versions feature either its late mediaeval shape, with three arches and the fortified Tomb of Hadrian on its left end, or the same bridge following the 16th century alterations, by which the standing figures of Rome's saint patrons, Peter and Paul, were placed at both ends.
coat of arms of Ponte district

ponte S.Angelo
S.Angelo Bridge, formerly Pons Elius,
now belonging to Borgo district
Lungotevere Marzio; lungotevere Tor di Nona; piazza Ponte S.Angelo; lungotevere degli Altoviti; piazza Paoli; lungotevere dei Fiorentini; lungotevere di Sangallo; vicolo della Scimia; via delle Carceri; vicolo Cellini; via dei Filippini; piazza dell'Orologio; via del Governo Vecchio; via del Corallo; piazza del Fico; via della Pace; via di Tor Millina; via di S.Maria dell'Anima; via di Tor Sanguigna; piazza di Tor Sanguigna; piazza di S.Apollinare; via di S.Agostino; piazza di S.Agostino; via dei Pianellari; via dei Portoghesi; via del Cancello.

Ponte district's locator map
(the black numbers in brackets refer to the map on the left)

Ponte's history is closely related to the bridge after which it was named [1].
In ancient roman times this district belonged to the Campus Martis (see Rione IV Campo Marzio for details), whose western part gave access to Pons Elius. When the city wall by Aurelian was built, about a century later, a minor gate was set here just before the bridge.
After the demolition of Pons Triumphalis, Pons Elius became the only direct way of crossing the river to reach Leo's City (the Vatican area). When Hadrian's tomb was fortified, it acted as a stronghold on the boundary between these two territories.
Ponte district, on the eastern side of the Tiber, began to be inhabited and grew into a neighborhood in the late Middle Ages. The local dwellers were provided with an increasing number of activities related to the many pilgrims who crossed the bridge towards St.Peter's basilica; in the 19th century many old taverns were still active, especially in the lanes next to the river (see below).
vicolo del Leuto
traces of the district's mediaeval
street plan are clearly visible

via dei Portoghesi
the 15th century Frangipane Tower
The first statues were placed here in the 16th century (see COAT OF ARMS); then, one century later, its span was lengthened by building a further small arch on each end, though preserving the three central ancient ones. In the mid 1600s six statues of angels holding the instruments of Christ's passion were added along the bridge's sides, and finally, in 1890, the two small arches were enlarged to their present size.
S.Angelo Bridge is also known for being one of the places where the papal executioner carried out his work (see Curious and Unusual page 8) and where, as of the 16th century, many bodies and severed heads of sentenced convicts were hung on both sides of the bridge, as a public admonishment.

There are no real highlights in Ponte, although its boundary is very close to some important spots. Nevertheless, this small district, whose old houses and labyrintic street plan have remained almost unchanged in time, is wonderful to walk about, having preserved many charming spots.

A typical corner is the one between via dei Portoghesi and via dell'Orso [2], where a 16th century house is overlooked by the tower of the Frangipane family (1400s); it is also known as the Monkey Tower, because a monkey once grabbed the owner's baby daughter, and carried her on the rooftop of the building.

Keep walking along via dell'Orso, and where its ends, by the river bank, you will find yourself standing next to a very interesting building, dating back to the late 15th century: the Albergo dell'Orso (i.e. the Bear Inn) [3], a rare surviving example of the many establishments that once crowded this district, where the flocks of pilgrims travelling to St.Peter's used to stop and spend the night.
via dell'Orso / via di Monte Brianzo
the old Bear Inn

Also the small church of S.Maria della Pace [4], by a narrow three-way crossing on the boundary with Rione VI, Parione, has an interesting story to tell.
On its site stood an older church called S.Andrea degli Acquarenari. According to tradition, one day a gambler, in a rage after having lost his money, struck with a stone a painting of the Virgin Mary which hung below the building's porch, drawing blood from the image. In those days, pope Sixtus IV (1471-84) was in conflict with Lorenzo the Magnificent after the bankers of Florence, who supported the former, had conspired against the latter. The pope feared that a war might have started soon; he was quite impressed by the news of the prodigy, and made a vow to build a new church on this spot in the case peace would have been restored. Therefore, the church was rebuilt and named St.Mary of Peace.
About 200 years later, Pietro da Cortona gave it an elegant semicircular porch. By the altar now hangs the old painting which is said to have bleeded; but S.Maria della Pace is better known for some important frescoes by Raphael, commissioned by Agostino Chigi, the rich banker whose majestic villa in Rione XIII, Trastevere, was decorated by the same painter.
via della Pace
S.Maria della Pace

Adjoining S.Maria della Pace is S.Maria dell'Anima [5], Rome's German church, in the shape of a beautiful Renaissance building whose unusual belltower features tiles in unusual colours (blue, yellow, green). Also the inside recalls German churches more than local ones.
via dei Coronari
via dei Coronari, where antique dealers
replaced rosary sellers
One of the famous streets of this district is via dei Coronari [6], which cuts across the northern part of Ponte; it was opened around 1475 with the name via Recta ("straight street") to provide the pilgrims an easier access to St.Peter's than through the pre-existing narrow lanes. Its name was changed to the present one after the many rosary sellers (coronari) who crowded this street up to the 19th century, while now it is renowned for its many antique dealers. Several 16th and 17th century buildings still stand on both its sides.
At the eastern end of via dei Coronari, in via Arco dei Banchi, below an arch, is Rome's most ancient plaque in memory of a Tiber's flood, dated 1276 (see Curious and Unusual page 3 for details).
The area between the aforesaid street and the Tiber was known as Tor di Nona, after a no longer existing mediaeval tower which stood there. Since the early 1400s, the tower acted as a jail: its ill-famed dungeon had terrible cells, one of which was known as "the pit", and it also had a torture room.
When around 1650 the New Prison was built in via Giulia (see below), Tor di Nona was turned into a theatre, becoming a rather popular establishment. Now nothing is left of the original tower nor of the theatre but their name, which the street running along the river bank still bears.

Instead on the other side (southern side) of via dei Coronari, about halfway, the ground level rises quite abruptly into a small hill. On this site stands a 15th century building, Palazzo Taverna, built over the ruins of a medieval fortress belonged to the powerful Orsini family. When the fortress, also mentioned in Dante's Divine Comedy, was completely demolished, the heap of ruins, which formed an actual hill, was named Monte Giordano. The main entrance of the building is opposite via dei Coronari, in via di Monte Giordano, and in its courtyard is a large 17th century fountain. Unfortunately, the property is still private, thus not open to the public.
via di Monte Giordano
the entrance of Palazzo Taverna
(note the fountain in the background)

In the southernmost part of Ponte runs the first stretch of via Giulia [7], opened in the early 1500s, whose other half belongs to Rione VII, Regola. Pope Julius II wanted this street to be the heart of Renaissance Rome's business and commercial neighborhood.
Here stands S.Giovanni de' Fiorentini [8], the church of the Florentine community in Rome (mostly merchants and craftsmen), who lived in the surrounding streets. The original plan had been drawn by Michelangelo, but it was rejected after being reputed too expensive. The church's vault has a rather elongated shape, and the roman people used to call it "the sucked toffee".
Among the several artisans from Florence who lived in via Giulia was Benvenuto Cellini, a famous goldsmith of the mid 16th century, whose works were often commissioned by the aristocracy and even by royal families from other countries. His adventurous life (he stabbed and killed several people, was imprisoned in S.Angelo Castle, managed to escape, and was caught again) is described in his own autobiography. A nearby lane remember his name.
lungotevere dei Fiorentini
a view of S.Giovanni de' Fiorentini's vault
from the opposite side of the Tiber
Also the famous painter Raphael dwelt for some time in one of via Giulia's houses.

via Giulia
the New Prison
Therefore, along this street are several historical buildings.
One of them is the New Prison [9], a long building now given a bright red/orange colour, with many square windows closed by heavy iron grates (also note the considerable thickness of the walls). For over two centuries, from 1655 to the late 1800s, this was Rome's main house of detention. It was built with the purpose of giving convicts "a safer and more human custody" than the treatment received in Tor di Nona jail, previously mentioned.
Instead another ancient building, on the boundary with to Regola (Rione VII), remained unfinished [10]. Drawn in the early 16th century, it was supposed to become a huge palace which would have housed the new law court, but only its base was carried out according to the original project, by Donato Bramante, and was soon later abandoned. The stone seats along its sides were popularly nicknamed "via Giulia's sofas" as they provided the passers-by with a comfortable place where to take a rest.

via Giulia
the unfinished building
for the law court

back to the DISTRICT INDEX back to the MAIN INDEX