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All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to romapip@quipo.it. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in May 2010.

Ponte Milvio (Book 5) (Day 1) (ViewC3)

In this page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
Today's view
Ponte Milvio
Battle of Ponte Milvio
Statua di S. Andrea
Tempio di S. Andrea
S. Andrea Apostolo sulla Via Cassia
Sepolcro di Nerone

The Plate (No. 84)

The size of this plate indicates that it belonged to Vedute di Roma sul Tevere, the first book of etchings by Giuseppe Vasi; the view was eventually included in Book V which was published some ten years later. In his first works Vasi gave more importance to landscape than to monuments and this view of Ponte Milvio includes much of the surrounding countryside. A few years later Giovanni Battista Piranesi drew a much more detailed (and dramatic) view of the bridge.

Ponte Milvio, etching by Giovanni Battista Piranesi

In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Via Flaminia; 2) Via Angelica (leading to Porta Angelica). The small 1920 map shows 1) Ponte Milvio (in the past it was more usually called Ponte Molle); 2) Statua di S. Andrea; 3) Tempio di S. Andrea.


The view in March 2010

In 1804 Pope Pius VII agreed to crown Napoleon in Notre Dame, the cathedral of Paris; however at the ceremony which took place on December 2, Napoleon suddenly modified the planned ritual and he crowned himself and then his wife in front of the flabbergasted pope (see in an external page a famous painting by Jacques-Louis David). The pope remained four months in Paris with the hope of obtaining some concessions from the Emperor; upon his return to Rome he was welcomed at Ponte Milvio; for the occasion and at the end of an overall restoration of the bridge, the medieval tower was turned into a sort of triumphal arch designed by Giuseppe Valadier.
The timber structure at the beginning of the bridge was blown up in 1849 during the defence of Rome by Giuseppe Garibaldi. Other changes were made in the late XIXth century when the river banks were raised to reduce the risk of floods.

Ponte Milvio

Ponte Milvio (Gran Madre di Dio, the church behind the tower of the bridge was built in 1931-33 by Cesare Bazzani and Clemente Busiri Vici)

The bridge was built in 109 BC and it was crossed by Via Flaminia; two arches on the side towards Rome are original and retain the ancient travertine decoration; the other parts were rebuilt in the XVth and XIXth centuries.
Today Ponte Milvio is mainly known because lovers lock a padlock at its lamp posts.

Coat of arms of Pope Calixtus III

The tower at the northern end of the bridge was most likely built by Belisarius during the Greek-Gothic War, but it was largely modified by Pope Nicholas V who also rebuilt two of the central arches; however the completion of this restoration was celebrated in 1458 by his successor Pope Calixtus III; the papal coat of arms is placed between the coats of arms of Cardinal Rodrigo Lenzuoli Borgia (Calixtus' nephew who became Pope Alexander VI in 1492) and that of another member of the Borgia family. The small moon on the right lower corner is a reference to Cardinal Silvio Enea Piccolomini who became Pope Pius II in August 1458.

(left) Tower built by Pope Pius VII; (centre) statue of St. John of Nepomuk by Agostino Cornacchini; (right) statue of the Virgin Mary by Domenico Piggiani added in 1840

St. John of Nepomuk is the patron saint of those in danger of drowning because in 1393 he was drowned in the Vltava River at Prague by Wenceslaus, King of Bohemia; he was canonized in 1729 and in 1731 a statue of him was placed at the southern entrance to Ponte Milvio; according to tradition John was the confessor of the queen and he refused to reveal the name of her lover to the king; this explains the presence of a cupid with a finger on his lips in the lower part of the statue (for more statues of St. John of Nepomuk in Prague click here).
In 1840 the statue of St. John Nepomuk was relocated to the right side of the entrance and it was replaced by another (rather ugly) statue.

Battle of Ponte Milvio

Vision of Constantine before the battle of Ponte Milvio in the ceiling of the Gallery of Maps (decoration by Girolamo Muziano for Pope Gregory XIII); today the Gallery of Maps is part of the Vatican Museums

Ponte Milvio is associated with the battle fought in 312 AD at Saxa Rubra (near today's Malborghetto) between Constantine and Maxentius and which ended near Ponte Milvio when Maxentius drowned in the river (the image used as background for this page is based on a detail of the fresco by Giulio Romano in the Vatican Palace showing this episode).
According to tradition, before the battle Constantine had the vision of a cross accompanied by the words EN TOUTOI NIKA (Greek) - IN HOC SIGNO VINCES (Latin) (by bearing this symbol you will win). The Vision of Constantine has been portrayed by Raphael, Rubens, Bernini and many others.

Statua di S. Andrea

(left) Statue of St. Andrew by Paolo Taccone; (right) lengthy inscription dictated by Pope Pius II to celebrate the arrival in Rome of the head of the saint

Close to Ponte Milvio, in a small square between tall buildings, there is a small cemetery where the tombs are grouped around a statue of St. Andrew. It was erected here in 1462 by Pope Pius II to celebrate the arrival in Rome of the head of the saint from Patrasso in Greece, which had been conquered by the Ottomans in 1460 (click here to learn more on this topic).

Tempio di S. Andrea

(left) Tempio di S. Andrea; (right) façade

In 1552-53 Pope Julius III built a chapel along Via Flaminia, not far from his villa to comply with a vow he made in 1527, when he was a bishop; in June of that year, he had been given as a hostage by Pope Clement VII to Emperor Charles V as part of the agreements reached after the Sack of Rome; the chapel was dedicated to St. Andrew because the future pope was freed on November 30 1527, St. Andrew's Day, whereas several other hostages were killed at Campo de' Fiori.
The church was designed by il Vignola and it marks a departure from traditional architectonic rules because Corinthian, rather than Doric capitals were used for the decoration of the ground floor pillars.

S. Andrea Apostolo sulla Via Cassia

(left) S. Andrea Apostolo and the entrance to the adjoining nunnery; (right-above) detail of the façade; (right-below) early XXth century map of the environs of Rome showing Ponte Molle (Milvio) and the location of the church near the supposed tomb (sepolcro) of Emperor Nero

Immediately after Ponte Milvio the road splits into Via Flaminia (click here to move along Via Flaminia) leading to Rimini and into Via Cassia (click here to move along Via Cassia) leading to Florence. In 1690 Cardinal Antonio Pignatelli, just prior to becoming Pope Innocent XII, dedicated a chapel to St. Andrew inside a property of his family at the VIth mile of Via Cassia. Today the casino of the villa houses a nunnery and a school.

Sepolcro di Nerone

(left) Side view; (right) dedicatory inscription

The neighbourhood is known as Tomba di Nerone because in the Middle Ages a Roman sarcophagus was believed to be the tomb of Emperor Nero. Due to the association with Nero, who was regarded as a sorcerer, the monument had a bad reputation and many unfortunate events which occurred in the area were attributed to it. The sarcophagus is a IIIrd century AD work and it was dedicated by Vibia Maria Maxima to her father Vibius Marianus who held several minor positions in the Roman army; it is finely decorated with reliefs showing among other subjects, Castor and Pollux, the demigods who protected Rome.

Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:

Volendo ora intraprendere con buon'ordine il nostro cammino, ed osservare con piacere tutte le parti di quest'Alma Città, farà cosa molto spediente incominciare dal Tevere, mentre essendo questo Fiume reale assai celebre nell'Istoria Romana, ci darà grande ajuto a ritrovare e riconoscere il sommo pregio delle magnificenze di questa Metropoli, tanto più, che da questo Fiume la maggior parte delle Nazioni dovrà passare prima di entrare in Roma.
Chiamossi ne' primi tempi Albula, per le acque torbide, che portava, com'anche oggidì; poi si disse Tibris da Tibri Re, o Capitano de' Tuschi, che vi si affogò; ora però dicesi corrottamente Tevere, ed in latino Tiber. Nasce più in alto, e presso all'Arno nel monte Appennino, e nel corso intorno a 150 miglia, entrano in esso 42. fiumi: onde gonfio passando di fianco a Roma, la rende colla sua navigazione non solo deliziosa, ma altresì abbondante di ogni sorta di viveri, e di mercanzie. Sono in oggi sopra di questo Fiume cinque ponti tutti antichi, il primo de' quali è lungi dalla città quasi due miglia, e dicesi volgarmente
Ponte Molle
Or dovendo da questo principiare il nostro dilettevole viaggio, non bisogna, mio Lettore gentile, mirare solamente la semplice struttura di esso, ma scorrere più presto col pensiero a rammemorarsi quei tanti Eroi, che passando per esso vennero a Roma vincitori di Regni, e Provincie le più vaste e lontane; ed insieme quanti Re e Capitani prigionieri, o pur tributarj, ed officiosi vi possarono per venire a prestare omaggio al senato e popolo romano. Da Emilio Censore, che lo edificò fu chiamato Ponte Emilio, dipoi Milvio, ed ora Ponte Molle vien detto. Dell'antico non ritiene altro, che la torre fatta da Bellisario, e i piloni sopra cui Niccolò V rifece il ponte. Ne' secoli antichi si difendevano fin quì le oscenità del gentilesimo, perciò era frequentata questa contrada da Nerone. In oggi però dal medesimo ponte principia a farsi vedere la pietà de' Fedeli, e la santità della nostra Religione, essendo sopra di esso collocata un'immagine della santissima Vergine, ed al fianco la statua di s. Giovanni Nepomiceno.
Via Flaminia
Da Cajo Flaminio vincitor de' Liguri prese un tal nome la via, che passa sopra questo ponte, perchè con generosità la lastricò l'anno 533. di Roma fino a Rimini, ove finiva la Gallia cisalpina; né ha mutato nome, anzi con esso seguita, come anticamente, fino alla piazza di Sciarra, ove si unisce colla Via Lata. Era in quei tempi come la trionfale ornata di archi, e statue di uomini illustri; ora però vi sono de' sagri tempj, e sagre immagini: si vede in primo luogo la seguente
Statua di S. Andrea Apostolo
Pochi passi dopo il detto ponte evvi a sinistra la statua di s. Andrea Apostolo alzata sin dall'anno 1462. da Pio II. in memoria di essere stata ivi per una notte conservata la di lui sagra Testa, quando dal Peloponneso fu portata a Roma, e però fuvvi eretto un frontespizio, con 4 colonne, e vi fu destinato un Eremita, che ne avesse cura. E poco dopo evvi la
Chiesa di S. Andrea Apostolo
Giulio III. per una grazia ricevuta dal santo Apostolo mentre era Prelato, crede questa piccola chiesa con disegno però di Giacomo Barozio da Vignola, e se ne vede in stampa la pianta, lo spaccato, ed il prospetto.

Next plate in Book 5: Porto di Ripetta
Next step in Day 1 itinerary: Casino di Papa Giulio III