Tiber Island

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Tiber Island

Isola Tiberina
Roma-isola tiberina01.jpg
A view of the Tiber Island from the southeast
Coordinates 41°53′27″N12°28′38″E / 41.8908°N 12.4772°E / 41.8908; 12.4772
Tiber Island
A view on 13 December 2008 when the Tiber reached its highest level in 40 years Tiber in flood 2.jpg
A view on 13 December 2008 when the Tiber reached its highest level in 40 years

The Tiber Island (Italian : Isola Tiberina, Latin: Insula Tiberina) is the only river island in the part of the Tiber which runs through Rome. Tiber Island is located in the southern bend of the Tiber.


The island is boat-shaped, approximately 270 metres (890 feet) long and 67 metres (220 feet) wide, and has been connected with bridges to both sides of the river since antiquity. Being a seat of the ancient temple of Asclepius and later a hospital, the island is associated with medicine and healing. The Fatebenefratelli Hospital founded in the 16th century, and the San Bartolomeo all'Isola dating from the 10th century are located on the island.


The Western end of Isola Tiberina. The travertine stone gives a distinctive trireme shape. Tiberina hh.jpg
The Western end of Isola Tiberina. The travertine stone gives a distinctive trireme shape.

The island has been linked to the rest of Rome by two bridges since antiquity, and was once called Insula Inter-Duos-Pontes which means "the island between the two bridges". The Ponte Fabricio, the only original bridge in Rome, connects the island from the northeast to the Field of Mars in the rione Sant'Angelo (left bank). The Ponte Cestio, of which only some original parts survived, connects the island to Trastevere on the south (right bank).

There is a legend which says that after the fall of the hated tyrant Tarquinius Superbus (510 BC), the angry Romans threw his body into the Tiber. His body then settled onto the bottom where dirt and silt accumulated around it and eventually formed Tiber Island. Another version of the legend says that the people gathered up the wheat and grain of their despised ruler and threw it into the Tiber, where it eventually became the foundation of the island.

In ancient times, before Christianity spread through Rome, Tiber Island was avoided because of the negative stories associated with it. Only the worst criminals and the contagiously ill were condemned there. This however changed when a temple was built on the island.

Temple of Aesculapius (3rd century BC)

An illustration of the Tiber Island in a 1593 print. Tiber Island.jpg
An illustration of the Tiber Island in a 1593 print.
The Basilica di San Bartolomeo all'Isola on Tiber Island. Tiber.island.church.rome.arp.jpg
The Basilica di San Bartolomeo all'Isola on Tiber Island.

Tiber Island was once the location of an ancient temple to Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine and healing.

Accounts say[ clarification needed ] that in 293 BC, there was a great plague in Rome. Upon consulting the Sibyl, the Roman Senate was instructed to build a temple to Aesculapius, the Greek god of healing, and sent a delegation to Epidauros to obtain a statue of the deity. The delegation went on board a ship to sail out and obtain a statue.

Following their belief system, they obtained a snake from a temple and put it on board their ship. It immediately curled itself around the ship's mast and this was deemed as a good sign by them. Upon their return up the Tiber river, the snake slithered off the ship and swam onto the island. They believed that this was a sign from Aesculapius, a sign which meant that he wanted his temple to be built on that island.

This location may have been chosen for the Aesculapius Temple because it was separate from the rest of the city, which could help protect whoever was there from plague and illnesses.

The island eventually became so identified with the temple it supported that it was modeled to resemble a ship as a reminder of how it came to be. Travertine facing was added in mid or late first century by the banks to resemble a ship's prow and stern, and an obelisk was erected in the middle, symbolizing the vessel's mast. Walls were put around the island, and it came to resemble a Roman ship. Faint vestiges of Aesculapius' rod with an entwining snake are still visible on the "prow".

Additional Roman shrines

Entrance of the Fatebenefratelli Hospital (Ospedale Fatebenefratelli) Roma - Fatebenefratelli.JPG
Entrance of the Fatebenefratelli Hospital (Ospedale Fatebenefratelli)

After the Temple of Aesculapius, shrines dedicated to other deities were also erected after the 2nd century BC, namely: [1]

After Ancient Rome

In time, the obelisk was removed and replaced with a cross-topped column. After it was destroyed in 1867, Pope Pius IX had an aedicula, called "Spire", put in its place. This monument, designed by Ignazio Jacometti, is decorated with statues of four saints related to the island: St. Bartholomew, St. Paulinus of Nola, St. Francis and St. John. Parts of the obelisk are now in the museum[ which? ] in Naples.

In 998 Emperor Otto III had a basilica, that of San Bartolomeo all'Isola, built over the Aesculapius temple's ruins on the eastern side (downstream end) of the island. [1] This was dedicated to his friend, the martyr Adalbert of Prague; the name of St. Bartholomew was added only later. In the early 20th century, prior to the Fascist regime's restoration of ancient place names, the Tiber Island was called the Isola di S. Bartolomeo. [2] Likewise, Cestius' Bridge was called the Ponte S. Bartolomeo.

The island is still considered a place of healing because a hospital, founded in 1584, was built on the island and is still operating. It is staffed by the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God or "Fatebenefratelli". [3] The hospital was not built on the same spot as the temple, but stands on the western half of the island.

Tiber island panorama.jpg
Panoramic view of the island with the Ponte Cestio

According to the documentary My Italian Secret, when the Nazis occupied Rome in 1943 and started rounding up the Jews, Dr. Borromeo, head of the hospital, invented an imaginary deadly and highly contagious illness he dubbed “Il Morbo di K” to keep the SS away and protect those Jews hiding inside the wards, just a stone's throw from the Ghetto. [4]


L'Isola del Cinema, 2009 Cinema ile Tiberine Rome.jpg
L'Isola del Cinema, 2009
Carving of the rod of Aesculapius on the stone prow of Tiber Island Carving of the snake - Prow of Tiber Island.JPG
Carving of the rod of Aesculapius on the stone prow of Tiber Island

During summer, the island hosts the Isola del Cinema film festival. [5]

The island serves as the player's headquarters in the 2010 action-adventure stealth video game Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood .

Related Research Articles

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Asclepeions were healing temples located in ancient Greece, dedicated to Asclepius, the first doctor-demigod in Greek mythology. Asclepius was said to have been such a skilled doctor that he could even raise people from the dead. So stemming from the myth of his great healing powers, pilgrims would flock to temples built in his honor in order to seek spiritual and physical healing.

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In Greek mythology, the Rod of Asclepius, also known as the Staff of Aesculapius and as the asklepian, is a serpent-entwined rod wielded by the Greek god Asclepius, a deity associated with healing and medicine. Theories have been proposed about the Greek origin of the symbol and its implications. In modern times, it is the predominant symbol for medicine and health care, although, because of a misunderstanding, the Caduceus is sometimes seen in this context.

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The Pons Agrippae was an ancient bridge across the River Tiber in Rome. It was located 160 metres above the Ponte Sisto, and is known from an inscribed cippus set up by the curatores riparum during the Principate of the Emperor Claudius, suggesting it was built during or before the reign of Claudius. It was restored in 147 AD. The bridge is named after Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, a close friend of the Emperor Augustus. Agrippa married Julia, the daughter of Augustus, and the couple lived in a villa on the opposite bank of the River Tiber. To connect his villa to the Field of Mars, where Agrippa had built several important monuments, it has been suggested that Agrippa constructed the Pons Agrippae.

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Temple of Asclepius, Rome

The Temple of Asclepius was an ancient Roman temple to Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, on the Isola Tiberina in Rome.

Fatebenefratelli Hospital Hospital in Rome, Italy

Fatebenefratelli Hospital is a hospital located on the western side of the Tiber Island in Rome. It was established in 1585 and is currently run by the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God. The hospital is known for having sheltered Jews during the Holocaust by diagnosing them with a fictitious disease called "Syndrome K".

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Temple of Aesculapius (Villa Borghese)

The Temple of Aesculapius located in the gardens of the Villa Borghese, in Rome, was built in the ionic style between 1785 and 1792 by Antonio Asprucci and his son Mario Asprucci, with help from Cristoforo Unterperger. The temple was perhaps built in memory of the destroyed ancient temple to the god of Medicine on the Tiber Island.

<i>Ager Vaticanus</i> Plain in Rome on the right bank of the Tiber

In Ancient Rome, the Ager Vaticanus was the alluvial plain on the right (west) bank of the Tiber. It was also called Ripa Veientana or Ripa Etrusca, indicating the Etruscan dominion during the archaic period. It was located between the Janiculum, the Vatican Hill, and Monte Mario, down to the Aventine Hill and up to the confluence of the Cremera creek.

Regio XIV Transtiberim Historical region of Rome

The Regio XIV Transtiberim is the fourteenth regio of imperial Rome, under Augustus's administrative reform. Meaning "across the Tiber", the Regio took its name from its position on the west bank of the Tiber River.

Via Tiberina

The via Tiberina was an ancient Roman road, which from the north of Rome, going up the right bank of the Tiber valley, crossed the ancient Faliscan-Capenate countryside to reach the Sabina and continued towards Ocriculum in Umbria. Today, in the metropolitan city of Rome Capital, its route coincides with the provincial road 15 / A Tiberina.


  1. 1 2 Claridge, Amanda (1998). Toms, Judith; Cubberleyv, Tony (eds.). Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. ISBN   9780199546831.
  2. Platner, Samuel Ball; Ashby, Thomas (1929). "Insula Tiberina". A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. London: Oxford University Press. p. 281‑282.
  3. "Tiberian Island". Official Website of the Fatebenefratelli (Order of the Brothers of St. John of God). Archived from the original on 16 March 2008. Retrieved 19 June 2019.
  4. "Characters". My Italian Secret: The Forgotten Heroes . Retrieved 19 June 2019.
  5. "Isola del Cinema". Estate Romana 2007. Comune di Roma. 2 September 2007. Archived from the original on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 19 June 2019.

Coordinates: 41°53′27″N12°28′38″E / 41.89083°N 12.47722°E / 41.89083; 12.47722