Bridge (in Italian:
Ponte Nomentano), also called "Old Bridge" (in
Italian: Ponte Vecchio), is a symbol of Rome's neighborhood
of Montesacro, both for its long
history, both for its beauty,
which is evident for those who admire it from the modern Tazio
bridge, the main entrance to
the neighborhood from the center (the view is only for those who
pass on foot or by bus, riding in a car you can't see it).
The bridge lies at the foot of the historic Monte Sacro hill, and allows Nomentana road to pass over river Aniene (formerly named Anio, later Teverone), a left tributary of the Tiber.
The bridge was built in Roman times, and since then it has undergone many changes, both due to the destruction caused by floods or wars, and because, since the Middle Ages, it was fortified for its crucial position on a strategic and military point of view. For centuries, in fact, the bridge was one of the few entrances to Rome for those who came from the north (like most of the invading armies), together with Salario and Mammolo bridges, on the Aniene, and Milvio, on the Tiber.
This character of small fortress is quite clear to those who cross the bridge, along the narrow passage of the Via Nomentana, which runs confined between two walls, that link two towers at their ends and are surmounted by balconies. The considerable distance from the city walls (about four kilometers, 2.5 miles) meant that until the '20s of the twentieth century the bridge was isolated in the countryside, and not surrounded by any village.
The bridge was often cited as "Lamentano", as the estate in which it arose, but it was also called "juxta Casale de Pazzis", meaning "near Casal de 'Pazzi" for its proximity (1.2 km, 0.75 mi) with the estates and the still existing residence of the noble Florentine family de' Pazzi.
Besides being a fortress, the bridge was particularly important for the transit of flocks and herds engaged in transhumance, and in actual fact, on the keystone of its upstream arch a relief can be seen, representing a club upside down, symbol of Hercules, protector of livestock, and a stylized bovine head, while the downstream arch (the one facing Tazio bridge) represents a straight club. Even other herds' crossing places of Tiber and Aniene river were sacred to Hercules (Calci). In 1532, under Pope Clement VII de' Medici (1523-1534), Nomentano bridge passed, like others, to the city customs and, together with Mammolo and Salario bridges, assumed the role of "Livestock Customs", for the collection of duties on cattle transit (so much per head) needed for transhumance, as in many other areas of south-central Italy, and as in ancient Rome. Actually Varro speaks of a tax (scriptura censoria) on transhumant herds and flocks, paid for the use of sheep tracks (calles publicae) and collected by agents (stationarii) in fixed passages, such as bridges (Grenier).
as it was
Recent studies by Lorenzo Gigli and Stefania Quilici Gigli allowed to enlighten the history of Nomentano bridge, dating it around 100 BC by its construction technique, the materials used and in particular for the style of the bovine head represented on the keystone. Previously, anyway, an older bridge had to be in place, allowing Via Nomentana, formerly via Ficulensis, to cross the river.
According to Quilici and Quilici Gigli the bridge had originally a double archway with 15.1 meters (49.5 ft) span, 6 meters (19.7 ft) wide central pier and a smaller flood outflow arch of 3 meters (9.8 ft). The look was therefore similar to that of Fabricius bridge, on Tiberina island. The arch which went lost was on the Rome side and was probably destroyed by Totila (see below), and the subsequent rebuilding replaced it with a ramp.
The accuracy of this reconstruction is confirmed by the remains of an impost in travertine opus quadratum (square blocks masonry) in the downstream pier on the Rome side, made of blocks of 55-60 cm (2 ft approx.) in height, embedded in the medieval brick wall, likely a jamb of the flood outflow arch.
The pillars of the arches, heavily refurbished by subsequent works, were made in rectangular blocks of red lithoid tufa, laid in alternate rows of stretchers and headers, that can partly still be seen on the Monte Sacro side, with travertine archivolts.
According to other reconstructions, the original structure had three arches, with the central being wider of the side ones; according to some representations the arches of the ramp on the Rome side were two, while other ones showed two arches on each side. In a sketch made by Fra Giocondo (1433-1515) the bridge has three main arches, the central of which is wider, and also shows three small ramp arches on the side facing Rome.
as it is
The bridge is 7.35 m (24.1 ft) wide, 60 m (197 ft) long, with a single archway of 15.1 m (49.5 ft), with fronts in travertine ashlars and intrados in Gabii lithoid tufa, topped by a fifteenth-century fortress, with swallow-tailed merlons, consisting of a watch-turret on the side of Rome, to protect access to the city, and a lower building, a remnant of a collapsed twin tower, covered by a roof, perhaps in the eighteenth century (Calci). The two turrets are joined by two walls with crenellated running balconies supported by travertine corbels, where two large arched windows open on both sides, with a 3.8 m (12.5 ft) width. Over each window a wide discharging arch of 13.8 m (45.3 ft) in diameter stands, with an arched brickwork lintel. On both sides of the turrets two other smaller towers stand, dating to the mid fifteenth century restoration.
The 8 meters wide piers, as above mentioned preserve parts of the original Roman structure in red lithoid tufa. On both sides of the main arch two lateral ramp arches stand, 3.0 (9.9 ft) and 3.3 (10.8 ft) meters wide, built in Roman concrete (opus caementicium) including reused materials (marble, bricks, flint, tufa blocks) with arched lintels in fragmented ancient bricks. In the intrados of the arches, made of tufa and flint rubbles, the imprint of the reeds that coated the centring used for the construction of the arch can be seen. The masonry technique used for the small arches dates them to the Pope Adrian restoration of VIII century.
On the upstream versant,
Montesacro side, a sixteenth century hanging latrine
stands, with finely decorated reused Renaissance corbels,
rebuilt in the mid-nineteenth century. The upstream side is composed
of a well-cured masonry of reused bricks which, by comparison
with similar artifacts, is attributable to the sixth century restoration
Quilici Gigli, Calci).
In several ancient artistic representations the remains of an avant-corps are portrayed, standing a few meters ahead of the front of the bridge, on the Monte Sacro side, which must have been demolished in late '700 or early '800, perhaps to facilitate the passage of vehicles.
millennium of the bridge
The Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea tells (History of the Wars, VII, 24, IV) that in 547, during the Greek-Gothic war (535-553), the King of the Goths Totila, before leaving Rome to the Emperor's army, to find shelter in Tivoli , destroyed all the bridges on the Tiber, except for Milvio bridge, which was too close to the city. Since the other bridges on the Tiber were inside the city, and therefore even closer than Milvio bridge, probably the bridges which were destroyed, mentioned by Procopius, were those more peripheral, crossing the Aniene, then Nomentano, Salario and Mammolo bridge. The bridges were rebuilt entirely in travertine in 552 by Narses, the Byzantine general of Armenian origin, who ruled Rome on behalf of the Emperor Justinian.
Pope Adrian I, during his pontificate (772-795) ordered the restoration of many buildings, including Nomentano bridge, which was fortified with a crenellated tower at each end, through which the road passes, connected by wooden balconies, joined by a wall with large arched windows and a crenellated gallery, resting on finely decorated corbels, occupied by guardrooms.
On 24th November 800 the bridge was probably the scene of the meeting between Pope Leo III and Charlemagne, who came down to Rome to defend the Pope from the attacks of his opponents; the Pope then crowned him, perhaps in spite of his will, "Great Peaceful Emperor of the Romans", in St. Peter's Basilica, on Christmas Eve of that year.
millennium of the bridge
In the tenth century the bridge belonged to San Silvestro in Capite monastery, in 1205 it passed to San Lorenzo in Lucina church and then to San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains) monastery, together with the estates of Sant'Agnese fuori le Mura (Saint Agnes Outside the Wall) Basilica. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the structure of the bridge was superelevated and reinforced with flint flakes masonry.
The bridge was occupied in 1433 by Niccolo Fortebraccio della Stella and Antonio Gambacorta Count of Pontedera, and in 1452 Pope Nicholas V Parentucelli (1447-1455), as part of a full program of restoration and reconstruction, financed with the proceeds of the Jubilee of 1450, ordered an intervention that gave the bridge its current look, with the solid central frame, and superelevating the towers and putting two strong security doors. The hinges of the doors on Monte Sacro side are still in place. The intervention is remembered by a plaque on the side of Rome bearing the emblem of the pope and the inscription N PAPA V (Nicolaus Papa V), which was ironically interpreted by common people as "Nessun papa volemo" ("No pope we want").
The bridge was restored
under several popes: in 1460 Pius
II Piccolomini (1458-1464) ordered works on double battlements,
balconies with reused decorated corbels and inner shutters, completed
in 1471 by Pope Paul II Barbo (1464-1471).
Later Sixtus IV della Rovere
(1471-84) intervened, and fixed a bridges toll, in order to fund
their restoration and maintenance, needed especially for those
on the Aniene, which were isolated and therefore more exposed
than urban ones to raids and assaults by the enemies. Innocent
VIII Cybo (1484-1492) and Alexander
VI Borja (1492-1503) ordered to restore towers, rebates and
battlements, to repair the damage followed to the occupation in
1485 by the Aragonese troops led by Paolo Orsini, and the reconquest
by the Anjou supported by Innocent VIII. Paul III (1534-1549),
intervened in 1546 making the access arches lower, further works
were ordered by Sixtus V Peretti (1585-1590) and Innocent
X Pamphili (1644-1655), who rebuilt the bridgeheads facing
Rome, fixing his coat of arms on the right side of it. The coat
of arms was stolen years ago and in its place the City Council
placed a copy.
In 1534 the bridge was mentioned by Bartolomeo Marliano (d. 1560) in his Topografia della Città di Roma and in 1558 by Lucio Mauro in Antichità de la Città di Roma.
The Catasto Alessandrino (Land Registry of Pope Alexander VII) on a map dated February 3rd, 1636 (link) reports the bridge together with Iacobacci tower, indicating Domenico Jacobacci as owner. The Iacobacci tower can be probably identified with the mausoleum which is located just over the bridge (see page, in construction), which in the Middle Ages was fortified and reinforced with a tower on its top. In 1704 the bridge is shown in the Topografia dell'Agro Romano by Giovanni Battista Cingolani della Pergola and in the same period the collapse of the upper part of the tower on the right bank is documented, then replaced by a lower building with slope covering, still existing. Giuseppe Antonio Guattani in Roma Antica (1795) briefly speaks of the bridge.
bridge in the nineteenth century
The great French author Stendhal (Henri Beyle, 1783-1842), in his work Promenades dans Rome, tells of a trip on April 18th 1828 to Monte Sacro, which led him to cross Nomentano bridge and see the sepulchre that was mistakenly referred to him as the burial of Menenius Agrippa.
In 1849 the bridge was broken by the French troops of General Oudinot for a length of seven meters to prevent Giuseppe Garibaldi's Redshirts, camped in Monterotondo to enter Rome. The passage was restored in 1857 by architect Francesco Fontana, who also provided to restore the battlements of the towers, the extrados, the bridgehead facing Monte Sacro, and the paving.
On October 29th, 1867, on the occasion of Garibaldi's new attempt to conquer Rome, the general was assured that the Romans were ready for an insurrection, so he reached and occupied the Casal de' Pazzi with some men, at a short distance from the bridge, hoping to push the Romans to rise up with his presence. A handful of Garibaldi soldiers, led by the officer Ferdinando Gregori, had a firefight with the papal soldiers at the Nomentano bridge. Garibaldi, realizing that the insurrection would not take place, the next day returned to his troops in Monterotondo. The bridge was again interrupted, and on November 3rd Garibaldi was defeated in Mentana, by the papal Zouaves under the command of General Hermann Kanzler, and by the French troops of Baron de Polhés, who had just landed in Civitavecchia in aid of Pope Pius IX.
A few years later, in the winter of 1875, Garibaldi, who had become deputy of the Italian Parliament, probably crossed Nomentano bridge to reach the villa Cavallini in via Nomentana which now hosts Marymount School, near the Basilica of St. Agnes, where a plaque commemorates his stay.
At the turn of the '800 and '900 the bridge area was the scene of fox hunts envolving Roman enthusiast, both belonging to the aristocracy and to the upper class, with the participation of English residents in Rome. The bridge was also used by the fox hunting teams to pass through and reach Vigne Nuove, another site which was appreciated for this activity.
In 1886, on the back of the Osteria de' Cacciatori (Hunters' Tavern), 150 m from the bridge, the base of a mausoleum and the remains of an imperial age villa were found, with a double vault piscina, which likely extended itself as far as the slopes of the Monte Sacro, and to which a 15 meters (50 ft) long reservoir, found nearby, probably belonged.
On Sunday January 27th, 1889 the Roman republicans organized a demonstration (see my webpage on this) to commemorate Garibaldi's victory in the battle of Dijon, on January 23rd, 1871, during the Franco-Prussian war. A march started from Piazza Indipendenza, walked along Via Nomentana, and reached the Osteria dei Cacciatori, of Filippo Averardi, next to the Nomentano bridge, to also remember the battle between Garibaldi and Papal troops in 1867. The march and the demonstration at the bridge had decidedly a republican characters, with shouts against the monarchy and the Italian flags with the "frog", that is with the Savoy coat of arms in the center were lowered. The speech was interrupted by the police, due to its anti-monarchical content, but the crowd reacted by throwing stones, sticks and glasses from the top of Monte Sacro hill. Police reinforcements attacked the demonstrators on their return to the city, passing through Porta Pia, with excesses of brutality, causing many injuries (Il Messaggero).
Nomentano in 20th century
In 1935 the new Tazio bridge was inaugurated, about two hundred meters downstream of Nomentano bridge, served by Via Nomentana Nuova, a detour of Via Nomentana, then named Via Ponte Tazio, that allowed traffic, including at that time the tram, to bypass the old bridge reaching Piazza Sempione from city center. In 1926, due to threats to its stability, the first lesser span on the right bank was filled in. Despite the construction of Tazio bridge, the Nomentano bridge, in the meantime renamed by the people "Old Bridge", continued to be used, at first with an alternate one-way, with a rudimentary hand-operated set of traffic lights, and then with a one-way for traffic coming from Rome; the bridge was the scene of traffic accidents, even fatal, for the sudden narrowing and the sharp right turn, that caused the cars who got onto the bridge at an excessive speed, to crash into the wall that protected the left parapet. In 1979 gratings to protect the two windows and parapets on the smaller arches were installed.
In 1997 the bridge was very appropriately closed to traffic, and it's now accessible only to pedestrians, and in 2000, on the occasion of the Jubilee, it has been restored and is now included in the Natural Park of the Aniene Valley, and continues after centuries withstanding floods.
In 2020 Nomentano Bridge was in 228th place with 1752 votes in the ranking of Luoghi del Cuore (Places of the Heart) organized by the FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano, see website) the Italian Fund for Environment.
Nomentano in the arts
In addition to being crossed over the centuries by many historical figures, the Nomentano bridge has also inspired many artists, especially painters and engravers as Israel Silvestre (1621-1691), Hendrik Frans Van Lint (1684-1763), Ridolfino Venuti (1705-1763), Giuseppe Vasi (1710-1762), Richard Wilson (17131782), Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797), Domenico Pronti (1750- ca.1815) see the mosaic from his engraving, James A. Merigot (17601824), Agostino Tofanelli (1770-1834), J. Christian Erland (?), Luigi Rossini (1790-1875), Achille Parboni (1783-1841), Giovanni Brun (1754-1800), Camille Corot (1796-1875), Antonio Acquaroni (1801-1874), Karl Eduard Biermann (1803-1892), Charles Coleman (1807-1874), Johann Wilhelm Schirmer (1807-1863), Pierre-Nicolas Brisset (1810-1890), Francis Wey (1812-1882), Jean-Achille Benouville (1815-1891), Felix Benoist (1818-1896) also with Eugène Cicéri, (1813-1890), Jules Laurens (1825-1901), Robert Burn (1829-1904), Carlo Ferranti (1840-1908), Albert Hertel (1843-1912), Francesco Coleman (1851-1918), Harold Broadfield Warren (1859-1934), Filippo Anivitti (1876-1955), Costantino Vetriani (1885-1968) and Adolfo Scalpelli (1888-1917), in addition to the photographies by Giuseppe Primoli (1851-1927).
The bridge is located in Montesacro neighborhood, and can be reached from the center of Rome along Via Nomentana, about 3.8 km (2.4 mi) from Porta Pia, then taking the detour on the right which leaves via Nomentana, right after the intersection with Via Bencivenga (on the right) and via Val Trompia (on the left). Actually the detour is the via Nomentana, while the road going straight is via Nomentana Nuova. The old and new via Nomentana are separated by a small pine grove. The bridge can also be reached by bus from the city center with the lines 60 (from piazza Venezia), 66, 82 and 90 (from Termini Railway Station), and from Pietralata (metro B) with the line 211. The nearest metro station is Conca d'Oro (B1 line, direction Ionio) at about 800 meters (0.5 mi). The bridge can also be reached from Montesacro by Piazza Menenio Agrippa, going down via Nomentana for about two hundred meters.
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