A Tourist in Rome - Ponte Fabrico
|Location:||The bridge between Tiber Island and Campus Martius in central Rome to the northeast|
|Metro:||Circo Massimo and Bus #160, or see it on my To the Forum Boarium and Beyond Walking Tour instead|
|Time:||about 10 minutes|
|Hours:||Viewable at any time|
Ponte Fabrico, or Pons Fabricius, also known as Ponte Quattro Capi, is the oldest Roman bridge which still exists today in its original state. This pedestrian-only bridge is 200 feet long, 18 feet wide, and connects Tiber Island with the Campus Martius. Tiber Island is, in turn, connected to the other side of the river, the Trastevere side, by Ponte Cestio. Ponte Fabrico consists of two wide arches supported by a central pillar, and has a smaller opening within the pillar to permit a larger flow of water when the level of the Tiber River rises. The southeastern side of the bridge is shown in the 3 photos below.
It was built in 62 BC to replace a wooden bridge that had been destroyed by fire. Lucius Fabricius was the officer in charge of street maintenance at the time of construction, and he had his name and title inscribed four times on the bridge, at the top of the four main arches (1st and 2nd photos below). Those four inscriptions read: "L FABRICIVS C F CVR VIAR FACIVNDVM COERAVIT", which translates as "Lucius Fabricius, Son of Gaius, Superintendent of the roads, approved that it be built". The inscription above the central smaller arch (3rd photo below) reads "EIDEMQUE PROBAVIT", or "He tested it himself". OK, so maybe Lucious Fabricius liked to blow his own horn a bit too much, but after all, the bridge has been in continuous use ever since then. The inner core of the bridge is made from tufa and peperino. That core was originally faced with travertine; some of it was replaced by bricks during a restoration in the late 17th century. The 4th photo below shows the northwestern side of the bridge. More of the original travertine remains on that side of the bridge. The 3rd and 4th photos below show the small central arch of the bridge. Each bridge over the Tiber needs a defence against the pressure of the river in times of flood, and for Ponte Fabrico, this arch provides a "safety valve" that allows the raging river to flow through the bridge rather than knocking it over.
The sides of the surface of this pedestrian-only bridge are often lined by people selling artwork, purses, scarves or trinkets to the tourists (1st and 2nd photos below). When the police approach it's fun to watch how fast these salespeople can snatch up their wares and run, since they apparently don't have permission to sell their goods legitimately. The railings on the sides of the bridge were constructed in 1679 by Pope Innocent XI, but the original consisted of a bronze rail between pilasters such as the originals that still exist on the eastern end of the bridge (the Campus Martius end). Those pilasters are sculptures of four-sided hermes (3rd photo from one side, 4th through 6th from the other side), and the modern name of the bridge, Ponte Quattro Capi (Bridge of Four Heads) comes from these ancient sculptures.