The Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island) has long been associated with medicine and healing.
The island was once the site of the ancient Temple of Aesculapius (early 3rd century BCE) and since the late 16th century it has been home to the Fatebenefratelli Hospital (officially the Ospedale San Giovanni Calibita Fatebenefratelli).
The Temple of Aesculapius was dedicated in 293 BCE. Following a particularly bad outbreak of the plague, the Senate sent a delegation to Epidauros, reputed to be the birthplace of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, and home to the most famous temple of the god.
In honour of Asclepius, a particular type of non-venomous snake was often used in healing rituals, and the snakes crawled around freely on the floors of dormitories in which the sick and injured slept. Such snakes were introduced at the founding of each new temple of Asclepius.
Upon the delegation's return to Rome, a snake is said to have slithered off the ship and swam onto the Isola Tiberina. Believing this to be a propitious sign, a temple to Aesculapius was duly built on the island.
In time the Isola Tiberina became so identified with the Temple of Aesculapius that it was actually modelled to resemble a ship as a reminder of its origins. Faint vestiges of the god, holding a rod entwined with a snake, are still visible on the 'prow'.
The island is still considered a place of healing, on account of the presence of the Fatebenefratelli Hospital, which was established in 1585. The hospital, which is run by the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God, was not built on the site of the temple, but stands on the western half of the island.
The church of San Bartolomeo all' Isola now stands on the site of the Temple of Aesculpaius.
Blogging about Rome,
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My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private and
small-group walking tours
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