Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Bridges over the Tiber

Today's Photos:


1.Ponte Milvio is the site of a battle which changed the course of history.


2. Ponte Sant'Angelo as seen from the terrace of Castel Sant'Angelo.


3. Ponte Sisto is named after the Pope who had it built. Notice the dome of St. Peter's

Basilica in the background.


4. Ponte Cestio has an interesting connection with Julius Caesar.


5. Ponte Fabricio is the only ancient Roman bridge still in use today. You won't believe how old it is.


6. Ponte Rotto (the broken bridge). The reason for its name is obvious.


7. Horatius Cocles holds off the enemy as the Ponte Sublicio is cut down behind him.


8. This is my favorite picture of the Tiber Island. In the foreground, amidst the pine trees, is the Fatebenefratelli hospital. In the rear right we see the Basilica of St. Bartholomew with its bell tower. The top of the synagogue of Rome is seen above the trees on the left bank. Finally, one arch of Ponte Cestio is seen on the extreme right side; it leads to Trastevere.



Many cities all over the world have a river, small or large, which flows through them. One of these cities is, as we know, Rome, the Eternal City, which boasts its rather small but ancient and historic Tiber.


A curiosity


How did the river get this somewhat strange looking name? The average Roman today would probably have some difficulty answering this question. The fact is that the name derives from a legendary story about Tiberinus, a king of the town of Alba Longa just outside of Rome. He is said to have fallen into the river and drowned. His subjects then named the river "Tiberis" in his honor. The Latin "Tiberis" becomes "Tevere" in modern Italian and "Tiber" in English.


Oddly enough, there is no agreement about the exact length of the river. Most sources, however, converge on the figure of 252 miles. It originates in the Tuscan Apennines and flows down through the city of Perugia on its journey to Rome where it ultimately empties  into the Mediterranean Sea at the town of Ostia.  In its journey through Rome it is crossed by 27 bridges.


Some of these bridges have interesting and curious stories which help us to better understand and appreciate the history of Rome. What follows is a brief sketch of what I consider the seven most important and historic of these bridges, beginning upstream and working our way downstream.


Ponte Milvio (the Milvian Bridge)


Here, on October 28, 312, there was an epic battle fought between the co-emperors of Rome, Constantine and Maxentius. This battle was won by Constantine thanks to his vision of the Cross of Christ and the words which he heard: In hoc signo vinces (in this sign you will conquer). This vision and the ensuing victory convinced Constantine to introduce freedom of religion into the empire, thus de facto ending the persecution of the Christians.


Ponte degli Angeli (Bridge of the Angels)


This bridge was first built by the emperor Hadrian in the second century as an entrance to the area of his tomb. Originally called Pons Aelius from the name of the emperor, Aelius Adrianus, the name was changed to Bridge of the Angels after Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century had a vision of an angel at the top of Hadrian's tomb, a sign which signified the end of a terrible plague in the city of Rome. In the 1600s Gianlorenzo Bernini re-designed the bridge, adding the statues of angels which still line it today.


Ponte Sisto (The Bridge of Sixtus)


This bridge, which leads into the Trastevere neighborhood, gets its name from Pope Sixtus IV who rebuilt the Roman bridge originally constructed in the third century by the emperor Caracalla. Sixtus had it rebuilt in preparation for the Holy Year of 1475. This is the same Pope for whom the Sistine Chapel is named. Both the chapel and the bridge were designed by the pontiff''s favorite architect, Baccio Pontelli. I crossed this bridge many times, and I almost always reminded myself that it was built 17 years before Columbus discovered America. Just to put our own short American history in perspective!


Ponte Fabricio (The Bridge of Fabricius)


People never cease to be amazed at this bridge when they learn how old it is. It was built in the year 62 B.C. and is the only ancient Roman bridge which has been in use constantly since it was built. It connects the Tiber Island to the Jewish Ghetto on the left bank.


Ponte Cestio (The Bridge of Cestius)


This bridge connects the island to the Trastevere neighborhood on the right bank of the river. It was first built in 46 B.C., but was destroyed and rebuilt several times, the last of which was in 1896. It was originally built as a favor to Julius Caesar, connecting the famous gardens of Caesar in Trastevere to the island and the left bank. Caesar is said to have hosted none other than Queen Cleopatra in his gardens when he brought her to Rome.


(To get the full story of the Tiber Island and its two bridges, see my book: Tiber Island and the Basilica of St. Bartholomew).


Ponte Emilio


Just downstream from the Tiber Island is a solitary, ancient arch next to a modern bridge. The arch is all that remains of the Ponte Emilio, constructed in 179 B.C. by Emilius Lepidus. It was the first stone bridge built over the river. The bridge was damaged and rebuilt several times in its history, but after a disastrous flood in 1598, it was decided not to rebuild it. The Romans have given the one remaining arch the name Ponte Rotto (Broken Bridge).


Ponte Sublicio


There is a famous legend told about this bridge, originally built in the seventh century

B.C. Horatius Cocles, in 509 B.C. courageously and single-handedly  held off the invading Etruscans, giving his comrades time to cut down the bridge behind him. Horatius is said to have been saved by leaping into the river just before the bridge collapsed. The modern

bridge here today connects the Trastevere neighborhood to the Testaccio neighborhood.


(To learn the fascinating stories behind the fourteen historic neighborhoods of Rome and their corresponding fountains, see my book: Rome: Sights and Insights, Chapter 17).


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