Roman bridges don’t get as much attention as their cousins the aqueducts and the arenas, perhaps because we still use them every day. Ancient Romans excelled above all else in engineering, and one of the best ways to enjoy their city is on its bridges.
Rome has been adding to its spectacular collection of bridges for over 2,000 years. We’ve put together a guide to all the Tiber’s crossings in the city center, including the sites they connect.
We also recommend walking along the river between the bridges. On many stretches, huge plane trees create welcome shade along the sidewalks at street level and also absorb noise and pollution. Many of Rome’s current bridges date to the late 1800’s, when the city walled the river off to prevent flooding. To get away from the traffic, head down the stairs at each bridge to the walkways along the sunken river. A little unkempt but not seedy, the lungotevere (“along the Tiber”) paths offer prime views of the bridges and a respite from urban bustle.
Click on a link below to jump to a specific bridge:
Since all of the bridges in Rome rely on technology developed in ancient times, it’s worth looking at the innovations which created a revolution in bridge-building.
First and foremost: the arch. Romans didn’t invent the arch, but they perfected it – and used it to create structures which would change civilization across the world. Arches can carry heavier loads across longer distances than post-and-beam configurations, making a whole new scale of bridges possible.
If an arch is put together properly, the weight of the stones themselves holds it together. However, adding mortar increases its strength, which is particularly helpful for the piers, or supporting columns. Once again, Romans took an older invention – mortar – beyond all recognition. They created various mixtures for specific applications, such as mortar which hardens underwater or increases in strength over time. Thanks largely to its high ratio of volcanic ash, Roman mortar (and concrete) is held to be vastly superior to modern mixtures.
The final ingredient in Roman bridges is their ingenuity in putting it all together. To build foundations underwater, ancient Romans constructed cofferdams, huge wooden baskets sealed with clay or pitch, then pounded them into the ground below the river and pumped out the water. The cofferdams held back the water while the stone piers were anchored to the ground. The piers themselves tapered at the end, so that once the cofferdams were removed, the river would part around them rather than pounding a large surface.
Legend has it that ancient Roman engineers had to sleep under their own constructions as a guarantee of their stability.
Bridges in Rome, south to north
Ponte Sublicio (Ponte Aventino)
Connecting the Piazza di Porta Portese in Trastevere with Testaccio and Aventine hill, this is the site of the Pons Sublicius, Rome’s first recorded bridge. The original, built around 642 BCE, probably used wood driven into mud. Julius Caesar employed a similar method to bridge the Rhine in a mere 10 days. Rebuilt many times and abandoned by the classical era, the bridge’s site retained a reputation for magic, possibly associated with the sacrificial rituals ancient Etruscans performed there. The current bridge dates to 1919.
Ponte Rotto (Pons Aemilius)
Just south of Tiber Island lies one of the city’s stranger sights: a massive, ancient arch in the middle of the river. The Ponte Rotto (“Broken Bridge”) is all that remains of the Pons Aemilius, a triple-arch bridge constructed in the second century BCE.
A 1598 flood washed away one of the original arches, while another was removed to make room for the Palatine Bridge on the other side, leaving the center all alone.
Completed in 1890, the Palatino connects the Basilica Santa Cecilia in Trastevere with the Forum Boarium, Circus Maximus, and Capitoline hill. Some residents disdain the Palatine Bridge and its upper portion of metal, but it’s an interesting piece of early-industrial engineering. Besides sitting near the outlet of the Cloaca Maxima, the “Great Sewer” of ancient times, the spot is also notable as an epicenter of stone-throwing between rival members of Trastevere and Testaccio. (The practice is now forbidden.)
Ponte Fabricio (Pons Fabricius, Ponte dei Quattro Capi)
The Fabricio connects central Tiber Island with the Teatro di Marcello, Jewish Ghetto, and Capitoline hill. Dating to 62 BCE, this is the oldest functioning bridge in Rome and the third-oldest in the world. Named after the curator viarum (head of roadworks) Lucius Fabricius, it later became known as the “Jewish Bridge” due to the nearby Ghetto.
Apart from replacements of the brick facing, the entire structure is original. A statue of four-faced god Janus was added to each end in the 14th century.
Ponte Cestio (Pons Cestius, Ponte San Bartolomeo)
The Cestio connects Trastevere with central Tiber Island. An ancient bridge makes up about a third of the 1892 structure. The original structure, built around the same time as the Fabricius and reconstructed in the fourth century, remained functional until the embankment of the Tiber widened the gap beyond the bridge’s span.
Inaugurated in 1888 and enlarged in 1959, the Garibaldi connects the Piazza Belli in Trastevere with the Largo Argentina area via the northern tip of Tiber Island. Although it’s made of stone, the Garibaldi is a no-nonsense modern structure. While it’s not the most picturesque of Rome’s bridges, it does provide spectacular panoramas and is a popular hang-out spot for locals.
Ponte Sisto (Pons Aurelius)
Pedestrian Ponte Sisto connects the Piazza Trilussa in Trastevere with the Campo de’Fiori area. Restored in 2000 and beloved by residents, the bridge is another ancient/modern amalgamation. The remains of the Pons Aurelius, largely destroyed during the Lombard invasion of the city in 772, were incorporated into the new structure in 1473.
It’s named after Pope Sixtus IV, who commissioned it not long after the Sant-Angelo’s balustrades broke. Incidentally, the Pope’s Latin title of Pontifex Maximus translates as “bridge-builder.” The term, which originally referred to the Rome’s high priest during pagan times, was likely symbolic rather than literal.
The distinctive circular hole, or oculus (“eye”), reduces surface of floodwater hitting the structure. The Sisto still carries fresh water across the river in eight large pipes.
Ponte Mazzini & Ponte Principe Amedeo
Two 20th-century bridges span the Tiber north of the Sisto. The Mazzini, completed in 1908, connects Janiculum hill to the Via Giulia area. The neoclassical Ponte Principe Amedeo, built during World War II, connects the Borgo area with the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II.
Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II
Designed to connect St. Peter’s and the Vatican with the Piazza Venezia and the Vittorio Emanuele II monument, this 1911 bridge combines classical sculptures with patriotic fervor, including four bronze Victories atop columns.
Ponte Nero (Pons Neronianus)
In times of severe drought, the level of the Tiber drops enough to reveal the remains of the Pons Neronianus, or Ponte Nero. Although its origins remain obscure, scholars think the ancient bridge may have taken its name from the emperor’s extensive properties on the Vatican side. These included the infamous Circus of Nero, where he executed Christians whom he accused of causing the Great Fire of Rome in 64 CE. Not even Roman engineers could contend with the poor location, however, and the bridge eventually had to be relocated to more stable ground. The ancient piers stayed in place until the 19th century, when they were removed to make more room for boat traffic.
Ponte Sant’Angelo (Pons Aelius, Ponte degli Angeli)
Arguably the most famous of Rome’s bridges, the Ponte Sant’Angelo has been memorialized in countless works of art, including The Divine Comedy. Three of the five arches date to 134, when Emperor Hadrian had the bridge built next to his new mausoleum (today the Castel Sant’Angelo).
Centuries later, the bridge formed part of the traditional pilgrimage route to St. Peter’s. By 1450, it had so much traffic that the balustrades collapsed, resulting in many pilgrims drowning. Over the next two centuries, the papacy used the bridge’s tolls to fund a series of improvements both structural and artistic. During the Counter-Reformation, it became part of a huge program of works designed to glorify the Roman Catholic church. Working closely with the Pope, Bernini designed the ten angels lining the bridge to enhance the pilgrims’ journey. It’s still the most scenic route to St. Peter’s, with perfectly-framed views of the Castel Sant’Angelo.
Bernini had time to finish only two of the statues: the Angel with the Crown of Thorns and the Angel with the Superscription. Clement IX claimed to be so moved that he insisted on keeping them for himself, so the ones on the bridge are copies. (Today the Sant’Andrea delle Fratte houses the originals).
Ponte Umberto I, Ponte Cavour, & Ponte Regina Margherita
The Umberto I Bridge is one of several constructed in the late 1800’s, around the same time the Tiber River’s massive embankment walls were erected. The Umberto I connects the Castel Sant’Angelo and Palace of Justice with the Piazza Navona area.
The Cavour Bridge connects the Piazza Cavour with the Palazzo Borghese and Museo dell’Ara Pacis. Completed in 1896, it’s been a traditional New Year’s Day diving point since the postwar period. (Swimming in the Tiber is normally forbidden.)
The Regina Margherita is another embankment-era bridge. It connects the Piazza della Libertà and Prati area with the Piazza del Popolo.
Ponte Milvio (Pons Milvius)
Although its location up by the Olympic Village area puts the pedestrian Milvio beyond the range of most visitors, it’s hard to imagine a more momentous place. Originally constructed in 207 BCE, the bridge marked the northern boundary of the ancient city – and the spot where Constantine and his army faced off with his rival Maxentius in 312. Frescoes in the Vatican’s Raphael Rooms depict the battle. Supposedly Constantine had a vision of a cross in the sky on the eve of the battle, prompting his conversion to Christianity. Some might argue that Jesus’s creed was already on its way to dominating the Latins, but Constantine’s endorsement triggered a number of events which would change the world.
From the Piazza del Popolo, the Ponte Milvio is about 35 minutes’ walk, or 15-20 minutes via bus or tram.
For more on ancient Roman engineering, see our post on Nîmes and the Pont du Gard.