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Isola Tiberina: a ship moored in the heart of Rome

The Tiber is the cradle of Rome, both as legend, with the she-wolf saving the twins abandoned to the current, and as historical fact. And the Island also has two stories to tell, starting with the real one that describes it as a natural ford, made of tuff like the nearby hills.

Isola Tiberina: a real watershed between the Ghetto and Trastevere

The Isola Tiberina is the only river island of the Tiber within the city. It rises between two bridges that join it on one side to the Ghetto area (with Ponte Fabricio), on the other to the Trastevere district (with Ponte Cestio). Ponte Fabricio is also called Ponte dei Quattro Capi (Bridge of the Four Heads) from the marble monument representing the heads of the engineers that Pope Sixtus V had severed because they did not agree with each other.

About the origin of the island there are no more mysteries as in antiquity; it is a natural tuffaceous formation like the neighbouring hills. A ford that was decisive for the development of stable settlements on the surrounding hills.

Archaeological investigations have removed any doubt between scientific reality and legend. A fanciful version tells of an accumulation of mud formed on Tarquinio il Superbo‘s crops thrown into the Tiber by the Romans at his expulsion.

The island’s central, yet secluded location from the life of the city has made it an ideal health resort. In ancient times it housed the Temple of Aesculapius, the god of medicine, whose serpent was brought from Epidaurus to Rome to defeat the plague of 293 B.C.

Legend and history intertwine through time

According to legend, the reptile, jumping from the ship, pointed to the spot where the temple was later built. On the ruins of which, in the 10th century,

Pope Otto III had the Church of San Bartolomeo all’Isola built. A church with interesting testimonies of faith and a history of continuous restoration over the centuries, due to the damage caused by the Tiber floods. Inside, there is an ancient well with a bas-relief depicting the three saints to whom it was originally dedicated: Bartholomew, Adalbert and Paulinus.

The Romans believed that the water from the well was miraculous as it contained the bones of the Roman martyrs Esuperanzio and Marcello. Opposite the church stands the still very active Fatebenefratelli Hospital founded in 1582 and modernised by Cesare Bazzani in 1930/1934.

The name originates from the begging call of the followers of St John of God who built it. From the entrance square, a staircase descends to the quay, which allows one to walk around the island.

The walk along the shores reveals the ‘ship’ metaphor of the island

The shape of the island, with its pointed ‘prow’, and the very ancient use of the Tiber as a civil and commercial transport route gave rise to the idea of the island as a ‘ship’.

The legend and the profile of the island suggested the arrangement of the outer perimeter in the form of a warship. With the embankments once equipped for moorings, and perhaps also with the presence of an obelisk as a mast.

The discovery of so many small and large details continually creates a sense of surprise in those who visit the Isola Tiberina by taking some time. It is a useful pause to appreciate the original view of the river and the surrounding architecture, such as the remains of Ponte Emilio, or Broken Bridge, from 179 B.C., which was the first masonry bridge built in Rome.

A stop to also appreciate the cleaner air compared to the rest of the city and, last but not least, the presence of poultry fauna can only consolidate the memory and positive judgement of the place.

With the Blog of Rome and Latium Region, Around Rome guides you to discover the territories for the pleasure of satisfying curiosity and putting culture at the service of people and businesses.

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Edited by il NETWORK | text Andrea Franchiniphoto Ezio Bocci

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