Exploring Tiber Island and Rome’s Jewish Ghetto

Tiber Island has been on my Roman wish-list for quite a while. Staying ahead of an impending thunderstorm was the main aim on the early Sunday morning we visited, hence the moody skies.

There are various legends around the island’s origins but it has been home to Roman healthcare since the 3rd Century BC, when a temple to Asclepius, the god of healing was established. The island even took the form of a boat, complete with marbled prow in memory of the legend that brought the god’s snake to the Tiber.

Today, it’s accessed via the ancient Pons Fabriccus, a crossing which has stood from the 1st Century BC and still looks immaculate.

That orginal temple to Asclepius is long gone, but the island maintains its commitment to healthcare with the wonderfully named Fatebenefratelli (‘do good brothers’), officially the Order of the Brothers of St John of God. The temple itself was later built over, in the tenth century, by a church, containing relics of the apostle St Bartholomew.

Crossing back over the Pons Fabriccus to the ‘mainland’, the Jewish Ghetto is across the road. Rome has had a Jewish population since ancient times, and sadly the Ghetto was established in the 1550s. The area was originally walled off from the rest of the city. Those walls are thankfully long gone, but we overheard a tour guide explaining that the entrance was marked by a unique church with Bible readings in both Hebrew and Italian, where Jews were forced to listen to sermons. That church, San Gregorio Della Divina Pieta, is often thought of as the birthplace of Saint Gregory.

The more imposing and modern day synagogue houses the city’s Museo Ebraico, which traces aspects of the city’s Jewish past. We were too early for a visit, so that’s an addition for a future itinerary.

The Ghetto is also home to the Portico of Octavia and offers a behind the scenes view of the Theatre of Marcellus and the remains of the neighbouring Temple of Apollo.

A little apartment was for sale just next to the Portico arch – imagine living there!

The narrow streets of the Ghetto were already filling up with early morning coffee drinkers, and on a future visit I’ll hopefully get back to try some of the area’s famed cuisine.

Have you visited Tiber Island or the Ghetto area?

8 comments

  1. I haven’t visited the island yet but whenever we pass it, amore says that he was born on it. Isn’t it true that it still houses the largest maternity hospital of Rome and that practically every Roman has been born there since almost forever? 🙂 In my language – Slovenian – there is a proverb that if a woman is pregnant we say that she is bound for Rome. I wonder if it’s a result of this hospital 😀

  2. I have crossed this part of Rome often and always wondered about the stories of people being born in the hospital on the island. In fact a lady I met this time in Rome, told me her daughter and husband both were born there. How cool is that!! I love your pics (esp the first two)

  3. My wife Angela and I were fortunate enough to spend 3 weeks in Rome last year. We wandered into the Ghetto and found it thoroughly fascinating. The Portico of Octavia was amazing. We just walked from our apartment n the Campo dei Fiore and came upon it by chance. That’s the best part of roaming Italy.

  4. I love to follow my nose and wander down side streets. The views you reveal are very enticing. I’ve been to many Italian cities but never Rome. Odd, isn’t it? One day, maybe… 🙂 🙂

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