The Ponte Sisto was commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV (r. 1471-84) for the Holy Year of 1475, but not completed until 1479. It is generally attributed to the Florentine architect Baccio Pontelli (c. 1450-92), who reused the foundations of an ancient Roman bridge the Pons Aurelius, later known as the Pons Antoninus.
An architectural characteristic of the Ponte Sisto is the oculus or eye, which is designed to diminish the river's pressure on the bridge at times of flooding.
The elegant Latin inscriptions on the two plaques (copies) were composed by the Renaissance humanist Bartolomeo Platina (1421-81):
XYSTVS IIII PONT MAX/AD VTILITATEM P RO PEREGRINAEQVE MVLTI/TVDINIS AD JVBILAEVM VENTVRAE PONTEM/HVNC QVEM MERITO RVPTVM VOCABANT A FVN/DAMENTIS MAGNA CVRA ET IMPENSA RESTI/TVIT XYSTVMQVE SVO DE NOMINE APPELLARI VOLVIT (For the convenience of the people of Rome and of the multitude of visitors bound for the Jubilee, Xystus IIII, Pontifex Maximus, with great care and at great expense rebuilt from its foundations, this bridge, which in former times they justly called broken, and willed that it should be called Xystum after his own name).
MCCCCLXXV/QVI TRANSIS XYST QVARTI BENEFICIO/DEVM ROGA VT PONTEFICEM OPTIMVM MAXI/MVM DIV NOBIS SALVET AC SOSPITET BENE/VALE QVISQVIS ES VBI HAEC PRECATVS/FVERIS (1475 You who cross by the kindness of Xystus the Fourth, pray God that he may long keep and preserve us our supreme and most excellent pontiff. Farewell, whoever you may be, once you have offered this prayer).
The Ponte Sisto was the first bridge to be built in Rome since antiquity and the last to be erected until the second half of the 19th century.
In 1866 an iron footbridge was constructed next to the church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini. The bridge was duly called the Ponte dei Fiorentini, but as there was a toll to cross it, it also came to be known as the Ponte del Soldo (Penny Bridge). The Ponte dei Fiorentini was destroyed in 1941.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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