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
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”.
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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
It connects to Tiber Island, the stuff of legends
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.