ISOLA TIBERINA (previously called Lycaonia, of St. Bartolomeo, of two bridges)
The Tiberina island, formerly simply called "Insula" [island] or "Insula inter duos pontes" [island between two bridges], afterwards was also called "Lycaonia" in the Middle Ages (perhaps because of a statue on Ponte Cestio representing that region of Asia Minor that became province on 373 AD) and "of St. Bartolomeo" (from the church on the island) on '600-'700.
Generated, according to legend, by the mud amassed on the Tarquinio il Superbo crops, thrown to the river by the Romans when they expelled the king from the town, really the island is tufaceus, like the hills near Rome.
Natural ford, it was essential to the erection of permanent installations on the surrounding heights and will be connected to the banks by two bridges, at first wooden and then (1st century) masonry (present Fabricio and Cestio bridges) connected by a road (vicus Censorii).
Cult place for various gods, it was mainly dedicated to Medicine God Esculapio, whose snake, brought to Rome from Epidauro in order to defeat the plague of the 293 b.C., jumping from the ship that carried it, came down the Tiber from the Navalia of Campo Marzio up to the Island, disappearing then in the place where the new temple was built, and inaugurated in the 289 b.C. Around the temple, as well as at Epidauro, probably there was porches to shelter the sick believers, and is surely singular that the island continued to be place of cure and center of a hospital through the Middle Ages up to now.
Other minor sanctuaries was located at the northern side of the island: those of Fauno and Veiove, both dedicated in the 194 b.C., were probably close one to the other; a sacellum of Iuppiter Iurarius (oath guarantor) rose in correspondence of the small church of St. Giovanni Calibita, where a mosaic with the name of the divinity was found. From an inscription was deduced also the cult of Bellona, known as Insulensis.
The legend and the island profile suggested to arrange of the external perimeter in shape of war ship, with the embankments equipped for the moorings and with an obelisk as main tree, two fragments of which are in the National Museum of Naples and a third one in Munchen. It was entirely built in travertine, 280 m long and 76 wide.
In the Middle Ages the plunder and the general disgrace of the river modified the island appearance with the separation of a smaller island upstream (joined again on 1791); on the end of the 1500 the sanitary tradition of the island, thanks also to the presence of a water source considered healthy, was renewed by the construction of the first nucleus of hospital (1548) and all the area became lazaret during the 1656 plague.
Deeply disfigured due to the new arrangement of the banks at the end of the 1800 (when it was even assumed to eliminate it), the modification of the Cestio bridge and the reconstruction of the hospital, it has however maintained the character of set apart cult and cure place.
The upstream platform end has been recently extended and connected to the middle pier of Garibaldi bridge in order to better regulate the water flow.
The island still keeps the characteristic shape of the ship of Esculapio: under the hanging stairs flight of the Fluvial Police station it can be seen the rests of the monumental ship shape arrangement of the tip of the island, contemporary of the Fabricio bridge: on the travertine blocks that cover the inner nucleus in peperino (visible under one arch on the right) it can be seen the carved bust of Esculapio, the snake rolled up around the stick, God symbol, and one taurine protome.
Arriving to the island from the Fabricio bridge it can be seen on the right the St. Giovanni Calibita church with its small baroque bell tower and on the left the medieval Caetani tower, powerful roman family who transformed the island in their own fort; then the St. Bartolomeo square at the center of which is located the Spire of Ignazio Giacometti (1869) with a cusp and four statues of saints (St. Bartolomeo towards the church, then clockwise St. Francesco, St. Giovanni di Dio and St. Paolino bishop) erected by pope Pio IX as indicated in the inscription:
"PIUS IX PONT.MAX IN COLUMNAE LOCUM QUAE PLAUSTRI IMPETU QUASSATA CONCIDERAT PECUNIA SUA FIERI ERIGIQUE IUSSIT - ANNO CHRISTIANO MDCCCLXIX CONCILIO VATICANO INEUNTE [Pio IX Pontifex Maximus, in the place of the column that fallen pulled down by a cart impact, ordered (this spire) to be built and erected at his charge. Christian year 1869, beginning of Vatican Council].
The church of St. Bartolomeo "de insula" and its beautiful Romanesque bell tower are the background of the square: the church was erected in X century in the place of the Temple of Esculapio, medicine god: no remains of this temple are now visible (however the medieval sink that is at the center of the presbytery steps probably corresponds to the sacred source that should be in the area of the temple; from the same temple it might also come the fourteen ancient columns that divide the church naves); on the fronton of the church it is engraved the dedication to the saint: "IN HAC BASILICA REQUIESCIT CORPUS S.BARTHOLOMAEI APOSTOLI" [In this basilica rests the body of apostle St. Bartolomeo].
In the northern part of the island is still present the St. Giovanni di Dio Hospital, also called Fatebenefratelli [brothers, engage in good works] from the sentence said by the begging friars, whose origins date back to 1548..
Legends and curiosities
from Rodolfo Lanciani  - pages 31-32:
A fantasy reconstruction of the island is at Villa d'Este at Tivoli [near Rome], forming part of the relief plant of the city of Rome that Pirro Ligorio planned to add to the curiosities of that delicious place. A water course, derived from the Aniene river, represents the Tiber, in which the ship seems to float, with the obelisk as main tree and the coat of arms of Cardinal Ippolito d'Este as of the emblem of the "merciful God" .
from Christoff Neumeister  - pages 194-196:
THE INTRODUCTION OF THE CULT OF ESCULAPIO TO ROME (Ovid, Metamorphoseis, XV the 626-744)
The ancient traveller, arriving to the Insula from the Pons Fabricius, would have noticed to his left the sanctuary of the healer god Esculapio = Asclepius. Here is the story.
When on the 293 b.C. Rome was hit by an epidemic that was not possible to wipe out, the Sibillini Books (or the Delphi oracle, according to what Ovid wrote in his Metamorphoses) were interrogated to know how to escape from the flagellum. The answer was to bring to Rome the god Esculapio from its most important sanctuary, located at Epidauro. Therefore an embassy was despatched across the sea, with the task to obtain the god (or better its cult image). However, during the negotiation, suddenly the god itself appeared in shape of a gigantic snake and spontaneously came up to the ship of Romans. They sailed back and, helped by favourable winds, arrived to the Tiber mouths after only one intermediate stop. Here they were received by the jubilant people and when the ship, going back the river, arrived to the city, the divine snake scrambled up on the main tree and watched around; then it slipped down from the ship, taking earth on the Tiberina island, where it was erected a temple.
This is the legendary story that explains because the sanctuary of Esculapio has been founded on the Tiberina island. The true reason should be simpler: in fact it must be considered that, as in other Esculapio cult places, the sanctuary was generally joined to an hospital for which it was suitable an area as much as possible isolated but, at the same time, not too far from the city. The Tiberina island well satisfied both conditions, considering that formerly it was not connected to the city by means of bridges. There were many people that took advantage of the aid of the god (i.e. of its therapists). This is proofed by the inscriptions and mainly the innumerable votive tablets recovered Tiber bed in years 1885-1887, during of the works of rearrangement of the river banks. These tablets were mainly expression of the humbler ranks (liberti and slaves). Since it had been more and more used the cruel practice to forsake on the Tiberina island the sick slaves, whose maintenance had become too much onerous for their masters, the emperor Claudius stated that every forsaken slave, in the case he succeeded in recovering, he could be considered free, without any obligation to come back under the authority of just the master.
In memory of the legend, the island was covered with a travertine layer in a ship shape - but strangely not with the prow against the stream, as it could be expected on the base of the legend, but turned towards the sea as if, let to say, the ship of Esculapio ridded at anchor. The rests of this monumental arrangement are still today visible; in particular the front extremity of the rowlocks zone (see pict.: Reconstruction of the ship prow of Esculapio according to O. Höckmann, München 1985), on whose side these is a ram head shape decoration like that used to protect the ship sides at the mooring; in the front side it is possible to see the famous symbol of the god, than still today is the symbol of doctors and chemists: a stick with a snake twisted around (Ovid, Metamorphoseis, XV 659): serpentem, baculum here nexíbus ambit. On the island it was also symbolically represented the main tree of the ship of Esculapio, from which the snake, at its arrival, saw the place where it would have had to rise its temple: it was an obelisk placed at the center of the island: its foundations were found on 1676.
The destiny of Tiberina island has been in doubt at the end of 1800, after Rome became the capital of Italy. In fact, as often the river broke its banks and flooded the surrounding areas, it was stated to give the Tiber a definitive arrangement in accordance to the new role of the town.
Among the various proposed alternatives (one of them even stating to fill up with earth the left river branch, slower than right one and naturally trending to silt up, with consequent elimination of the island joined to the Tiber left bank) on 1875 it was approved the Canevari project, mainly consisting in restraining the Tiber between two embankments ["muraglioni"], and in particular:
-regulating of watercourse in the urban way to a constant width of 100 m at embankments foot.
-survival of Tiberina island between the left and the right river branches, 60 m and 70 m wide respectively.
-extension of Ponte Cestio and demolition of Ponte Rotto
The works started on 1877.
Luigi Pirandello so described the destiny of the river (from "Pianto del Tevere"):
"You will not see the Tiber anymore as I saw it one day, through Rome running between its natural steps shores. (...) Now a prison of grey dams and heavy bridges embarks the river and strands its winding any time water even more subsides. Dry is the arm which was used to embrace the Two Bridges little island, as though it were its sweet heart."
PONS FABRICIUS (previously named Pons Judaeorum, Four Heads bridge) between the island and the Campo Marzio bank.
from Rodolfo Lanciani  - pages 30-31:
The island of Esculapio should be already connected to the left bank by a wooden bridge since 192 b.C. (Liv.,XXXV,21,5). A similar structure was supposed to be on the opposite side, in direction of Trastevere and the fortified top of the Gianicolo.
On 62 b.C., L.Fabricio, responsible of the roads (curator viarum), transformed it in a solid stone bridge.
The memorial inscription, engraved on both sides, is followed by the statement of the two consuls on 21 b.C., P.Lepido and M.Lollio, that approved the work as fully satisfactory. These inscriptions indicate us the wisdom of the roman management: the contractors of the bridges construction were guarantors of the solidity of the work for 40 years, and only on 41st they could get back the caution money they paid in advance. The fact that the bridge is still survived is the best evidence of its solidity.
The construction date is confirmed by Dione Cassio (XXXVII,45), while the second inscription probably indicates the makers of a subsequent restoration of the damages due to the river flood on 23 b.C.
The bridge, consisting of two large arches and a small flood hole opened in the central pier, has been preserved nearly integral. A further arch toward the bank has been included in the modern embankment. The nucleus consists of tufa and peperino blocks, while the covering, only partially preserved, is of travertine; its replacement with bricks curtains (probably due to the restoration on 2nd century) is dated 1679, as confirmed by an inscription of Innocenzo XI still preserved at the bridge head on the island side.
During the Middle Ages it was called "pons Judaeorum" when the Jewish community occupied the contiguous areas, known as Ghetto.
It is popularly called "Four Heads bridge" due to the two roman four-faces hermas located at the end of the parapets, probably supports of the bronze balustrades; only two of them are still in their place.
It has been recently restored within the works foreseen in Rome for the 2000 Jubilee.
The bridge, 62 m long and 5.5 m wide, has two large arches (about 24.5 m width) and a central pier with a small hole to reduce the load of the flood water. The inner nucleus consists of tufa and peperino, the external structure is of travertine blokcs, while the covering is a brickwork.
Near the head of the bridge, located on the modern parapets, there are two four-faces marble hermas, in whose lateral grooves the original bronze balustrades were probably inserted.
On the bridge arches it is engraved in block letters four times (two in the upstream side and two in the downstream one), the memorial inscription of the erection dated 62 b.C., while on arch nearest to the bank (and on the corresponding downstream side) a smaller inscription dated 21 b.C. records the authors of a subsequent restoration of the damages due to the river flood of the year 23 b.C. This is the text of the two inscriptions:
L.FABRICIUS C. F. CUR(ATOR) VIAR(UM) FACIUNDUM COERAVIT EIDEMQUE PROBAVEIT
[Lucio Fabrizio, descendant of Caio, Responsible of the Roads, supervised the execution of the job (lit. "the things that had to be made") and approved (them) too]
M. LOLLIUS M. F. Q. LEPIDUS M. FORMER F. CO(N)S(ULES) S(ENATUS) C(ONSULTO) PROBAVERUN(T)
[consuls Marco Lollio, Marco descendant, and Quinto Lepido, Manlio descendant, approved (the bridge) for ordinance of the Senate]
Legends and curiosities
from Giggi Zanazzo on 1907  - pages 284-285 [the original text is in Roman dialect]:
Four Heads bridge.
As all of you know, Sisto V [the Pope], that reigned for five years, get made five roads, five funtains, five spires, five bridges, and left five millions inside the Castle [Castel S.Angelo].
One among the bridges he get restored there was the so called Four Heads bridge.
And do you want to know why it has that name?
Because they told that the Pope get restored that bridge which was falling, by four expert architects, that, while working, quarrelled one against the other so that just for a louse hair [just for a very litte] they avoid to kill one of them.
As somebody informed Sisto V, that, as you know, had forthrights ways, he get catched all of the four architects and in a while he get cut their heads on the bridge itself, and get them exhibit in that place.
Then, for order of the Pope himself, that four heads will made of stone, and they was located, so carved, at the head of the bridge where they still are and gave the bridge its name of Four Heads.
One more interpretation, by Luciano Zeppegno  - page 865:
...I might also agree that the four heads are not the four-faces Hermas on the bridge, considering that, in this case, they would be, as properly declared by Delli, nothing less than eight. But I insist on the reason already expressed...: the bridge, being double, that is to say two well distinct bridges, but located on the same axis, it comes to have obviously four heads, that is two on the island, one more on the right bank, and the last one on the left side.
Why to think out other lucubrations when there is a so easy explanation?
PONS CAESTIUS (previously named Pons Gratianus, Bridge of St. Bartolomeo, Ferrato [iron shod] Bridge), between the island and Trastevere.
Its construction, dating back to 46 b.C., is ascribed to Lucio Cestio, one of the magistrates to which Cesar entrusted the administration of the town during his campaign of Spain.
The old bridge was almost 50 m long and had one central lower curve arch and two smaller ones about 6 m long.
It was restructured by Aurelio Avianio Simmaco, Praefectus Urbi, being emperors Valentiniano, Valente and Graziano; the bridge was dedicated to the last one during the spring of 370 AD and therefore named "pons Gratianus".
In the 1191-93 the bridge, by then "fere dirutum" (nearly destroyed), as indicated on the inscription still located on the bridge parapet, was restored again by Benedict Carushomo (Carissimi), sole senator of the town.
On late 1400 it was named "of St. Bartolomeo" (from the same name church on the island) and in the 1700-1800 "iron shod bridge".
According to the Canevari project, that stated a width 70 m for this branch of the Tiber near the island, the bridge was disassembled on 1888 and rebuilt in three equal arches, employing the original materials as much as possible; it was completed on 1892. During such remake it was discovered that in the IV century Simmaco used for the restoration some travertine blocks taken from the inferior order (Doric) of the Marcello theatre and some historical tablet of the Trajan age.
After the 1900 flood, the two large lateral arches were "bridled" (1901) in order to restore the previous water flow.
The present restoration has been carried out within the works foreseen in Rome for the 2000 Jubilee. Page top
Almost total remake of the ancient Pons Caestius, it consists of three equal arches; the lateral ones are bridled in order to reduce the flow of the right branch of the river.
On the upstream parapet have been relocated the memorial tablets of the repairs executed by Graziano (IV century) and by Benedetto Carushomo (BENEDICTUS ALME URBIS SUMM SENATOR RESTAURAVIT HUNC PONTEM FERE DIRUTUM) on 1191-93..
Legends and curiosities
"Lycaonia", one of the various names of Tiberina Isle in the past, probably comes from a statue located on the bridge and representing that region of Asia Minor that became province on 373 AD
A second inscription relevant to Graziano restoration, identical to the still visible one, was originally located on the other parapet; the Roman Republic supporters threw it down to the river on 1849 in the vain attempt to cut off the bridge.
PONS AEMILIUS (previously named St.Maria Bridge, Senatorio Bridge, Broken Bridge).
In the beginning of Rome history there was just a single line of communication between the city and the Etruria: the road that, through the Sublicio bridge, crossed the Trastevere [beyond Tiber] plain near St. Cosimato and steep rise to the Gianicolo. The things improved in the VI century of Rome (II b.C.), when a new road, the present Lungaretta, and a new bridge were built.
The old "Pons Aemilius" was the first in stone on the Tiber (the Sublicio Bridge was wooden). It was erected in two steps: in 181-179 b.C. the censors Marco Emilio Lepido and Marco Fulvio Nobiliore raised the pillars that supported a wooden footbridge that, on 142 b.C., was replaced by four masonry arches by Publio Scipione Emiliano and Lucio Mummida.
Due to the obliquity of the Pons Aemilius with respect to the river flow axis, and the water pressure on the bridge in this curve point of the river, the bridge has been swept up at least four times.
The first flooding occurred during Probo age, about on 280 AD; the second one on 1230, when the bridge was again rebuilt by Gregorio IX. After an unsuccessful participation of Michelangelo (1548-49), continued by Nanni di Baccio Bigio (1551) a third flood occurred on 27 September 1557; the last reconstruction was by Matteo da Città di Castello on 1573-75 being pope Gregorio XIII (on the ruin remain a heraldic insignia of the Pope dragon); then it was used by Sisto V to support the Acqua Felice aqueduct to Trastevere; finally the 24 December 1598 flood definitively swept down the left bank arch that was no more rebuilt.
On 1853, being pope Pio IX, a French Company built an iron suspended footbridge, similar to the Fiorentini bridge one, in replacement of the previous unsafe wooden girders, in order to join the three remained arches of the bridge to the left bank.
According to the Canevari project for the arrangement of the Tiber banks the two arches at the right bank side were pulled down (1877) in order to erect downstream, very close to the only remained arch, the new Palatino Bridge (Angelo Vescovali, 1886-1891).
Through the centuries the bridge changed name several times: so it was called "St. Maria Bridge", "Senatorio Bridge" and now "Broken Bridge".
The only "survived" arch of the old Pons Aemilius dates back to the half of the 1500, when the last remake of the bridge was executed; however it still loads on the spur pylons, in travertine blocks, of the II sec. b.C.
The symbols of pope Gregorio XIII dragon are still visible on both sides of the bridge, either in the insignia at the top of the flood eye than in the frieze at the arch corners.
Legends and curiosities
from Christoff Neumeister  - page 194:
Also in the ancient Rome bridges were some of the preferred places to kill oneself and moreover, at that time as nowadays, their arches provided a shelter to the beggars.
As it concerns the first aspect, there is a fairly funny story transmitted us by Giovenale in his Satire VI (VV. 28-32), in the passage in which he tells about a certain Postumo that is on the point of get married: "Are you perhaps become crazy?", the troubled poet asks him: "you want get married although you have at your disposal all the ropes that you need (to hang yourself), and so many windows at the high floors (to throw yourself down) and the Emilio bridge is here at two steps distance?" (cum tibi vicinum if praebeat Aemilius Pons?).
Finally the fact that the beggars lived under the bridges was for the Roman such a familiar situation that the word pons itself was used to shortly indicate an extreme poverty condition. Martial concludes the description of that miserable removal we already spoke about in the chapt.II (XII 32) with the sentence: "This procession of bits and pieces is very suited for a bridge" (haec sarcinarum pompa convenit ponti).
Giovenale, in his Satire XIV, concludes the picture of the poor dinner of a rich miser (mouldy bread stockies, remainders of the day before, old broad beans, low price fish, few onion slices) with these words (v. 134): "If one were invited, also who lives under the bridges would refuse" (invitatus to haec aliquis de ponte negabit).
 Rodolfo Lanciani "Rovine e scavi di Roma antica" -1897; Ed. Quasar - 1985
 Christoff Neumeister "Roma antica - guida letteraria della città" - 1991; Ed. Salerno Editrice - 1993
 Giggi Zanazzo "Usi, costumi e pregiudizi del popolo di Roma" - 1907/1910; Ed. La bancarella romana - 1994
 Romolo A. Staccioli "Guida di Roma antica" - 1986, Ed. BUR Rizzoli - 1986
 AAVV "Guida d'Italia - ROMA" - 1993; Ed. Touring Club Italiano - 1993
 Filippo Coarelli "Roma" - 1999; Ed. GLF Editori Laterza - 1999
 Armando Ravaglioli "Le rive del Tevere" - 1982; Ed. Edizioni di Roma Centro Storico - 1982
 Luciano Zeppegno "I rioni di Roma" - 1978; Ed. Newton Compton editori - 1984