Discover Ponte Fabricio, Rome’s Oldest Bridge

Spend any amount of time in the Eternal City and you’ll eventually stumble upon Ponte Fabricio (Pons Fabricius). As one of my favourite bridges in Rome, I’ve named it “Ponte Fab.”

Ponte Fabricio offers fabulous views of the Tiber River and the surrounding city. And as one of the few remaining examples of ancient Roman engineering, it is also an important historical landmark.

Want to know more? Read on for a brief overview of essential Ponte Fabricio facts and history

man looking out over the river tiber from ponte fabricio rome

Ponte Fabricio is the oldest Roman bridge in Rome still existing in its original state

It was built in 62 BC to connect from the Campus Martius on the left bank (east side) of the river to Tiber Island (Isola Tibertina). According to the historian Livy, Ponte Fabricio replaced an earlier wooden bridge.

The bridge takes its name from Lucius Fabricius

As the curator of roads (curatum viarium), he was responsible for commissioning Ponte Fabricio. Think of Lucius Fabricius as a modern-day Transport Minister.

Look out for the four inscriptions on the bridge’s arches that read: L FABRICIUS, C(AI) F(ILIUS), CVR(ATOR) VIAR(UM), FACIUNDUM COERAVI. This is Latin for “Lucius Fabricius, son of Claudius, roads’ curator, made build”.

arch of ponte fabricio in rome with latin inscriptions
The Latin inscriptions are on the bridge’s arch

Pons Fabricius is over 57 metres long and 5.6 metres wide

It is built with tuff and peperino, faced with travertine. Peperino was chosen for its hardness and mined from caves in the Alban Hills south of Rome.

The bridge has two wide arches spanning 24 metres, supported by a central pillar in the middle. These were the first arches on a Roman bridge that were not semi-circular.

pons fabricius old bridge in romewith ochre coloured old buildings on river bank

It has been in continuous use ever since its construction

Ponte Fabricio has survived floods, wars and other natural disasters to become one of the most enduring structures in Rome

Ponte Fabricio is also known as Ponte dei Quattro Capi or the “Bridge of the Four Heads”

pillar with ancient carving of three faces of the god janus

This refers to the herms of Janus, each with four faces, on the bridge’s parapets. They were moved here from the nearby Church of St Gregory (Monte Savello) in 1849.

Legend tells us that the four faces represent those of the architects who restored Ponte Fabricio under Pope Sixtus V (1585 – 1590). He had them beheaded because their lifestyle was far from exemplary.

One of the greatest popes in history sought refuge near here

Urban II (1088 – 1099), the pope who started the Crusades, took shelter in the Caetani Tower (Torre dei Caetani) which faces the bridge. This formed part of one of the great palazzi of 16th-century Rome, occupying a city block on the edge of Largo di Torre Argentina.

Caetani Tower is also known as Torre della Pulzella or Tower of the Maid. This is due to a small female head embedded in the masonry.

Although the sculpture is Roman, folklore tells us it is modelled on a young noblewoman locked in the tower in 1350 for refusing to marry her aristocratic suitor.

people on the old bridge of ponte fabricio in rome
Torre della Pulzella is on the left of this photo

It was a popular suicide spot in Roman times

The Roman poet Horace (65 BC – 27 BC) tells us that Pons Fabricus was where those in despair threw themselves into the river.

water flowing under an old stone bridge in rome

The bridge was once known as Pons Judaeorum

This name came from the Jewish community that occupied the left bank of the Tiber during the Middle Ages. This is today’s Jewish Ghetto and is considered one of the oldest in the world.

people on the old bridge of ponte fabricio in rome

It connects to Tiber Island, the stuff of legends

people relaxing on an island in the middle of the tiber in rome with arched stone bridge in background
Isola Tibertina and Ponte Cestio

Some say that the island was formed in 510 BC after the fall of one of Rome’s most hated leaders, the tyrant Tarquinius Superbus. A vengeful Roman mob chucked his body in the river and the silt that settled around his body formed Tiber Island. According to another legend, Isola Tibertina was formed when the Romans threw the wheat and grain belonging to their leader into the Tiber.

The island was also the site of an ancient temple to Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine and healing, built in the 3rd century BC4. The island became associated with medicine and healing ever since, and it is still home to a hospital and a church dedicated to San Bartolomeo, a martyr and healer.

Today, Tiber Island is a peaceful haven in a very busy city. In the summer, it hosts the annual Isola del Cinema film festival.

Thank you for reading my Ponte Fabricio facts

If you would like to learn about another iconic bridge in Rome, take a look at these Ponte Milvio facts, this Ponte Sant’Angelo guide or my guide to Ponte Sisto.