A Tourist in Rome - Tiber Island

Location:The island in the Tiber River, near the Theatre of Marcellus
Metro:Circo Massimo and Bus #160, or see it on my To the Forum Boarium and Beyond Walking Tour instead
Time:about 40 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time

Tiber Island (Isola Tiberina) is one of two islands in the Tiber River. It is found at a bend in the river in Rome, the other is the much larger Isola Sacra near the mouth of the river at Ostia. The island is shaped like a boat, and is about 900 feet long by 220 feet wide. It has been connected to the city on both sides since antiquity. First, the Ponte Fabrico was built in 62 BC, connecting the island to the Campus Martius bank. Then Ponte Cestio was built to connect the island to the Trastevere bank. According to legend, the island formed after the fall of the tyrannical king of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, in 510 BC. The angry Romans threw his body into the Tiber, it sunk and accumulated dirt and silt, eventually forming the island. An alternate version of the legend says the people destroyed his enormous stash of crops by throwing them into the Tiber, and the amount was so great that it formed the island. In 293 BC there was a plague in Rome, and the senate decided to build a temple to Aesculapius, the god of medicine and healing. They sent a delegation to Geece to obtain a statue of the deity. They also obtained a snake, and when the snake curled around the mast of their ship, they took it as a good sign. When they arrived in Rome the snake slithered off the ship and swam to Tiber Island; the Romans took that as a sign from Aesculapius to build his temple there. Or maybe they just built it there so the sick people could be isolated from the main part of the city. In any case, the temple was built and the island was modified to resemble a ship; travertine marble was added by the banks to resemble a ship's prow and stern, and an obelisk (no longer standing) was erected on the island to represent a mast. Other shrines which no longer exist were dedicated to other gods on the island over the years, but the association with Aesculapius and healing is the one that has "stuck". In the early Middle Ages, after the temple had already fallen, monks formed a hospice on the island where sick people could be treated. This grew in reputation until eventually in 1584 a real medical hospital was built which is still in operation. Today, the bridges survive (but Ponte Cestio has been rebuilt and reuses only a small amount of the original material), and small traces of the original travertine marble remains on the southern end of the island. There are some stores and a church and the afore-mentioned hospital on the island. A flight of steps leads down from the island to the river level, where a walkway runs all the way around. The walkway is enjoyed by both tourists and locals to stroll, sunbathe, and attend cultural events held on the island. The walkway also makes a great viewpoint for taking a close look at the old bridges.

    
Tiber Island
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Tiber Island, from the Trastevere end of Ponte Cestio
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Tiber Island
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Tiber Island
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