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San Salvatore a Ponte Rotto

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San Salvatore a Ponte Rotto was a medieval parish church at the Trastevere end of the Ponte Rotto, south of the bridge approach and east of the junction of Via dei Vascellari and the Via della Lungaretta. The site is now under the west end the Ponte Palatino.

It was dedicated to Jesus Christ the Saviour. Do not confuse it with San Salvatore in Corte nearby, now Santa Maria della Luce


The church first appears in a bull of Pope Gregory VII (1073-85), where it is described as belonging to the Benedictine abbey of San Paolo fuori le Mura. It would have been administered from the dependent monastery of San Cosimato in Trastevere nearby. However, its foundation was probably much older than this.

It stood right at the Trastevere end of the ancient Pons Aemilius, and the different names that this bridge has had have led to the church having many names also. The first one on record is Sanctissimi Salvatoris in Capite Pontis Sanctae Mariae, because the bridge was named after Our Lady in the early Middle Ages. This was because there used to be a miraculous icon of Our Lady exposed for venearation on its parapet until the monks of San Cosimato took it into their church.

Variations on the name are in Pede Pontis, de Ponte Sancta Maria or simply del Ponte. Other possible names in the Middle Ages were de Ponte Lepidi, de Ponte Lapideus, de Ponte Palatinum, de Ponte Senatorum or de Ponte Maior. Modern sources, beginning with Mariano Armellini, often use San Salvatore de Pede Pontis or "at the foot of the bridge".

The church was listed as parochial in the Catalogus Camerarii in 1192. A restoration was ordered by Pope Sixtus IV in 1475.

Ponte RottoEdit

The church oversaw a busy main route over the river, until a flood brought down two arches of the ancient and much patched-up bridge in 1557. There was much fruitless discussion as to how to repair it, and the decision was taken to repair it in its original form which was done by 1575. The work was well decorated but very badly done, and the bridge fell down again at its northern end in 1598. The Papal government then gave up on it, and the church began to be called San Salvatore de Ponte Rotto which was its usual name for the rest of its life.

In the reign of Pope Alexander VII (1655-67) a report was made on the church, which was described as having a nave with two arcades having six ancient Corinthian columns in each. Some of the columns were noted as being of black granite, which if true would have made them extremely precious in ancient times. Oddly, these columns had been whitewashed -did the colour attract superstition?

However, the church was then described as having its left-hand aisle in ruins. Presumably the arcade had been blocked up so as to be able to continue using the building. The report included a description by the parish priest written in 1659, detailing how damp and decay had rendered the edifice semi-derelict and destroyed its frescoes. It was agreed that a restoration was absolutely necessary.


The restoration that was undertaken and finished in 1660 was recognized at the time as unsatisfactory, and needing further attention. None of the work suggested by Borromini as consultant was undertaken, but the left hand aisle was patched up and the columns enclosed in pillars in order to strengthen the upper nave wall. The right hand arcade columns were left alone, which must have looked very odd.

The small and poor parish could not do any further work, and it was not until 1698 that the Congregazione del Santissimo Sagramento took over responsibilty for the building that it was possible to continue. In 1700 the façade was rebuilt in a Baroque style, the ceiling was vaulted and in 1726 the other arcade had its columns enclosed in pillars. The architect for the first part of this restoration, including the façade, was Ludovico Gregorini.


In 1838, the the Università dei Calzolari or guild of shoemakers took control of the church after moving out of Santa Bonosa nearby. They re-dedicated it to their patrons, SS Crispin and Crispinian, and so in its last days the church was known as San Crispino.

Towards the end of the Papal government in 1870, an iron suspension footbridge was built to cross the gap in the Ponte Rotto, and the church appears in many photos of the time featuring it. However, the old bridge fragment could not support the weight and the addition had to be demolished for safety reasons after the Italian government took over.

Unfortunately the shoemakers had little time to enjoy their tenancy, as the church was sequestered and demolished in 1886 in order to build the Tiber embankments. Its position on the extreme tip of the Trastevere meander of the river meant that it was impossible to save it without risking damage to the Isola opposite through increased current.


The church is unique in Rome as being the only one which now has its site in the river. When the embankment (now called the Lungotevere Ripa) and the new Ponte Palatino were built, the angle of the river meander was shaved off in order to improve the flow through the channel south of the Isola.

To find the exact location of the church on a map, take a line along the old route of the Via della Lungaretta (not the portion nearest the bridge, since this was moved in modern times). Take another along the line of the Via dei Vascellari, and a third along the old Ponte Rotto. Where these three lines intersect marks the right hand corner of the façade.

The church used to stand on the east side of the Via dei Vascellari just south of the junction with the Via della Lungaretta, at the foot of the Ponte Rotto. So its orientation was north-east to south-west.

The point defined above is actually on the Ponte Palatino, above the westernmost pier in the river. The apse of the church is under the slip lane feeding the traffic from the bridge south onto the Lungotevere Ripa. The first tree of the line of trees along the embankment stands about where the main altar was. So, most of the church is in the river.


This was not a very small church, and had a classic basilical plan of a nave with side aisles and six bays. There was no transept, or separate presbyterium. There were six pilasters on each side, forming arcades but the first pair and the last were larger and on a cross-shaped plan instead of being square. This was because the near ends of the aisles supported the two campaniles either side of the nave frontage, and below these were two separate enclosed chapels. One of the chapels was the baptistery. At the other end of the church, the other pair of larger pilasters supported a triumphal arch and there was an enclosed chapel in each far corner, at the ends of the aisles. The aisles were otherwise open.

The fabric was constructed of brick, with a stucco façade, and had an external semi-circular apse. The rooflines of apse and nave were decorated with a projecting dentillate cornice, and there was a pediment above the apse.

Several mid 19th century engravings show the church with slum houses built right up against it around its apse, but these had been removed by the time demolition took place.

The façade was an inventive and attractive composition. The nave frontage was of one storey, with two pairs of gigantic Doric pilasters supporting an entablature with a triangular pediment. The doorcase of the entrance was plain; above it was a projecting floating lintel, then a large tablet in relief and finally a large square window. It was the treatment of the aisle frontages that was so unusual. The aisle roofs were pitched and tiled as usual, but the frontages had horizontal tops. On these were two bellcotes or campaniles, in the form of identical aedicules described as follows. Two arched openings were crowned by a triangular pediment, the cornice of which was broken by a circular opening, and on the outside edge was an incurved curlicue.

External linksEdit

(There is no Wikipedia article.)

De Alvariis gallery on Flickr on church (The Impressionist painting by Enrique Serra is not of this church.)

De Alvariis gallery on Flickr on Ponte Rotto (church features in several old photos)

Article on the restorations (PDF)

"Romeartlover" web-page 1)

"Romeartlover" web-page 2)

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