The Tiber Island, formerly called Lycaonia, is a small island in the Tiber River, and the only island in Rome. Measuring only 67 meters and 269 meters at its widest and longest points, Isola Tiberina is a composed of rubble and layers of river sediment over tufa, the same stone that makes-up the hills in and around Rome.

The oldest human settlement in the Rome area was quite possibly on the island, as it provided a safe haven and both strategic and commercial importance. Not until the 8th century B.C., with the advent of better ranged weaponry, would it have been necessary to control the overbearing Capitoline hill.

According to a Roman legend, a plague was raging throughout Rome in 291 B.C. Desperately in need of help, the Republican government sent a delegation to the Aesculapion in Epidaurus, Greece, in hope of obtaining an image of the god Aesculapius, whose very image was said to have healing powers. The ship returned to Rome with not only the desired image but also with a huge snake that had come aboard and nestled in the cabin of the head of the delegation. The question of where to house the new idol, which had been a point of some contention, was decided by the serpent, which left the boat and swam to the island. As this was clearly a sign of divine intent, a temple to Aesculapius was built in honor on the spot where the snake made its home. The remains of the Tiber Island Aesculapion are thought to be under the church of St. Bartholomew that sits on the downstream end of the island. On the church is inscribed:

IN HAC BASILICA REQUIESCIT CORPUS S.BARTHOLOMAEI APOSTOLI
within this basilica rests the body of the apostle Saint Bartholomew


Inside the church is a well-head, which is said to mark the spot the snake came ashore. Nineteenth century excavations under the church have unearthed artifacts associated with the Cult of Aesculapius.

You can now reach Isola Tiberina from either side of the river; by car from the Trastevere side over the Pons Cestio or by foot over the Pons Fabricius, the oldest Roman bridge that survives in the city. Currently on the island is a hotel, a restaurant, a police station, and the St. Giovanni di Dio Hospital, which dates from 1548 A.D.

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