Located in the southern bend of the Tiber as the river makes its way through the city of Rome, Tiber Island is a small boatshaped isle that has been associated with healing since the era of the Roman Republic.
The island, which measures about 270 meters in length and 67 meters in breadth at its widest point, was important in the early Roman period since it facilitated the crossing of the river. It is connected to the mainland by two bridges that have existed since the antiquity: the Ponte Fabricio, which travels from the northeast part of the island towards the Theater of Marcellus on the left bank, and the Ponte Cestio, which connects the island to Trastevere, a neighborhood on the right bank.
The history of the island is closely associated with Aesculapius, the Roman version of the Greek god of medicine and healing Asclepius. In 293 BC Rome was hit by a plague and the Romans decided to send a delegation to the Greek city of Epidaurus to bring home a sacred snake, the symbolic attribute of Asclepius. When the delegation returned home their boat ran aground near the Tiber Island but the snake was able to escape the sinking ship and curl around a tree branch, safely reaching the island. Today the image of a snake entwined around a staff is still widely used as a symbol for medicine.
A place of healing
Ever since the construction of the Temple of Aesculapius the island has been associated with healing. Despite the legend telling otherwise the island was most likely chosen as a place of healing because it was secluded from the mainland and thus the ideal place to treat people with contagious diseases. In the antiquity people with no hope of recovery were placed in the Temple of Aesculapius and during the Middle Ages, people who suffered from the plague were exiled and buried here. The hospital of the Fatebenefratelli (dogoodbrothers) that was built on the island in 1584 to treat the plague patients still exists to this day.
The two bridges that have connected the island with the rest of Rome since the antiquity are still more or less intact two thousand years after their construction.
The oldest surviving bridge is the Ponte Fabricio, built in 62 BC as the Pons Fabricius to replace a wooden bridge. On the parapets of bridge are two pillars with marble herms that show a fourfaced Janus, the god of the beginning and end. That explains why the bridge is commonly known by the locals as the Pont dei Quattro Capi (bridge of the four heads). The bridge is guarded by the medieval Torre dei Caetani, a fortified tower that was built in the tenth century and later incorporated into the complex of the church of St. Bartholomew.
Location: The southern band of the Tiber River, Rome
Nearby sights: Theater of Marcellus, Forum Boarium, Porticus of Octavia
How to get there: Take bus No.81 in direction Risorgimento from just off Piazza del Colosseo (corner Via Claudia and Via Marco Aurelio) four stops to Petroselli and walk about 150 yards to Ponte Fabricio.
Nearby hotels: Domus Tiberina, Lauro Bed & Breakfast