Sitting pretty in the middle of the river, connecting Trastevere to the Jewish Ghetto. is the Tiber Island. Despite its central location, Tiber Island is a haven of peace and quiet. As you walk close to the rushing waters of the Tiber, it’s hard to believe you’re in the very centre of a capital city. For sure, one of the best attractions in Rome.
Tiber island is one of the world’s smallest inhabited island. We can trace its roots in ancient ages, when traders needed to cross the river to reach the main routes. And the island was a safe place, as the stream was shallow.
Indeed, you can get there crossing one of Rome’s oldest original bridge, Ponte Fabricio (62 BC).
The Tiber Island has always been a place of mystery, wrapped in legend. The boat-shaped Isola Tiberina has been associated with healing since the 3rd century BC when the Romans built a temple here to the god of medicine Aesculapius. Centuries ago, Tiber Island was considered a dangerous, lawless place, inhabited by criminals and people suffering from contagious diseases. Legend has it that the Roman Senate sent a delegation to Greece to ask the oracle for a solutions. The Romans took a snake from the temple of Epidauros and returned to Rome by boat. As they travelled up the Tiber, the snake slithered off the ship, and disappeared on Tiber Island. Interpreting this as a sign from the god, the people of Rome decided to build the temple on the island.
Still today people come to be cured, though they now head to the island’s hospital.
In reality, the island was probably chosen because of its isolation from the rest of Rome, protecting citizens from infectious diseases. But the legend of the ship and the snake captured the popular imagination, to such an extent that Tiber Island was even re-modelled in the 1st century, in order to resemble a ship. The travertine outline of the island looks like a prow and stern, while the obelisk represents a mast. If you look closely, you can see a carving of the snake and Aesculapius’s rod on the “prow” of the island.
Along with the hospital, there’s also a beautiful Baroque church with 10th century origins, San Bartolomeo all’Isola. The church contains a range of interesting relics, associated with saints and martyrs throughout the centuries, as well as frescoes by the Baroque painter Antonio Carracci.
Visible to the south are the remains of the Pons Aemilius. Also known as the Ponte Rotto ( Broken Bridge), it was ancient Rome’s first stone bridge, and was all swept away in a 1598 flood.
Someone actually proposed to flatten out the Tiber Island to widen the riverbed. Fortunately, nobody thought this was a clever idea and the island is still there. A picturesque place for romantic walks by the Tiber river.
For most tourists, Tiber Island is only a convenient crossing point, rather than a destination in itself, but the island is worth exploring. As you’ll discover on our Off-The-Beaten-Path tour, there’s more to Tiber Island than meets the eye. It’s truly of of the best attractions of Rome.