Friday, April 8, 2011


Downstream from Sant' Angelo Bridge there was a white stone bridge on elongated arches that made me curious. I walked down and saw it was called Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II – much embellished with soaring Art Deco sculpture groups. Yet the figures seemed to be struggling in a high wind (just like Veronica with her billowing veil inside St. Peter's), as if the Baroque were still trying to carry them away in the time-honored, windswept way.

Carved marble bands along the balustrades (below) conformed more to traditional Roman designs. They might almost have come from one of the really good centuries. Except that the lions are smiling a little too much.

Even farther downriver I found Ponte Giuseppe Mazzini (below). This bridge had very photogenic lamp post bases, like ships' prows. I liked those, and I also liked the big old weeping leafless trees bending over the embankment, though I never bothered to find out what kind of trees they were.

After that it was only two or three bridges farther before I reached the oldest bridge in Rome, built in 62 B.C. It was called Ponte Fabricio, "but is also known as the Ponte dei Quattro Capi from the two double herms of the double-headed Janus on the parapet." These herm-statue-totem-things were quite spooky-looking. They had, after all, been sitting out there in all weathers for more than two thousand years. Actually, the obelisks one saw everywhere were older and had worn much better, but they were made of Egyptian granite instead of the relatively soft marble the Romans favored. Somehow these figures on the bridge reminded me far more than better-preserved Roman sculpture that they had been created and believed in as literal gods with magical powers.

Their bridge was still active, carrying foot traffic out to Isola Tiberina, Rome's only island -- a marble-paved island. Due to recent rain, the river was running high with boiling brown water the day I was out there.

And it was from Isola Tiberina that I spotted the only example I saw anywhere of Roman tagging, an art form even more rare in Rome than graffiti.