Rome’s island in the Tiber – published on


 The Isola Tiberina – the island in the river Tiber – is a good stepping stone on the way to or from Trastevere. There is even a restaurant here for lunch – Sora Lella. To reach the island  take the Ponte Fabricio, a footbridge dating back to 62BC.

In 291 BC Rome was suffering from a dire pestilence and it was decided to send envoys to Epidaurus in Greece, to ask for help from the god of healing, Aesculpius. One of the sacred snakes slithered after the envoys into their boat and this was seen as a favourable sign from the god. When the boat docked in Rome the snake was seen to glide out and settle on the island. A temple built to honour the god of healing was built on the island and prows made of travertine stone were built onto the island to make it resemble a boat. In the tenth century AD the church of San Bartolomeo was built on the ruins of the old temple and porticoes were provided for the sick needing treatment. At water level a staff and serpent can still be seen carved to commemorate the original temple.  Rahere, a courtier to England’s Henry 11, was cured of malaria here. It is thought opium was used to help these ‘dream cures’ and Rahere had a vision which inspired him to found the famous St. Barts Hospital on his return to London. Rudyard Kipling wrote about him and Rajere’s ornate tomb can be seen in the neighbouring church of the same name.

In Rome in 1538 a hospital was established on the island and the friars set out a box for charitable donations labeled “Fate bene, fratelli” – Do good, brothers. Over the years the good work of the almsgivers has become attributed to the Church and today the very modern hospital is known affectionately as the “Fatebenefratelli” – the brothers who make you well.

Photograph © Alex Edwards

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