The Ponte Sant’Angelo: History of the Ponte Sant’Angelo

Nicole Dacales


The Ponte Sant’Angelo and the Castle Sant’Angelo
Fig. 2

The Ponte Sant’Angelo and the Castle Sant’Angelo have played important roles throughout the history of Rome.  These two sights had many transformations over the centuries.   The Ponte Sant’Angelo was originally called the Pons Aelius and the Castle Sant’Angelo was originally a Mausoleum.  The bridge was named after emperor Publius Aelius Hadrianus and was constructed in 134 A.D to connect the Campo Marzio to the Mausoleum.[1]  The Mausoleum was built to house the remains of the emperor and his family.  In the year 590 Pope Gregory the Great and the citizens of Rome saw the Archangel Michael atop the Castle signifying the end of the plague.[2]  This vision of the Archangel influenced the decision to rename the bridge and the mausoleum to the Ponte Sant’Angelo and the Castle Sant’Angelo in the fifteenth century.  The mausoleum was transformed into a fortress by Gregory the Great.[3]  In 1346 the plague recurred in Rome and again the city was granted a miracle that defined the end of the plague after Clement VI led a procession from the Church of Saint Maria to Saint Peter’s.[2]   Beginning around the fourteenth century the Castle Sant’Angelo became a safe haven to shelter members of the papacy and individuals through times of turmoil.  The palace was renovated to a residential castle and a fortified pathway the Passetto di Borgo was constructed to connect the castle to St Peter’s Basilica .[3]  Along the Ponte S. Angelo shops were placed down the middle travelers would enter down the side of the bridge the shops faced and exited on the other side.  These shops often sold rosaries and other religious items. During the Jubilee of 1450 there was a large number of travelers and guest visiting the Holy City to see the veil of St. Veronica.  Pope Nicholas V announced later in the evening that the veil would no longer be out of view the crowd became restless and began to rush toward the Ponte Sant’Angelo in hopes of seeing the veil.  The bridge was narrow and became congested quickly causing many people to become trampled by the crowed or had fallen over the edge of the bridge and drowned to death.[2]  This tragedy exposed the bridges problematic design it was not safe for large crowds of people.  The Passetto di Borgo was used by Clement VII during the Sack of Rome .[3]  The Sack of Rome left two chapels that stood on either side of the entrance to the Ponte S. Angelo damaged.  Around 1464 the two chapels removed and replaced with a statue of Saint Peter, carved by Lorenzetto, and a statue of Saint Paul, carved by Paolo Romano.[2]


[1] Mark S. Weil “The Angels of the Ponte Sant’Angelo: A Comparasion of Bernini’s Sculpture to the Work      of Two Collaborators.” Art Journal, Vol. 30 No. 3 (Spring 1971),

[2] Mark S. Weil The History and Decoration of the Pont S. Angelo (The University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press 1974)

[3]William Tronzo ed., St Peter’s in the Vatican(Cambridge University Press 2005)