Pons Fabricius: Rome’s Timeless Bridge
By Ian Dahl
|Pons Fabricius, built in 62 BC|
Introduction and History
When I first heard of the so called “Oldest Bridge in Rome,” I was intrigued to say the least. While everything in Rome is old, it is rare to find anything built before christ that has been preserved in its original state, while still functioning in the exact way it was designed. Although crumbling monuments like the Colosseum are certainly impressive, there is something special about the Pons Fabricius. Nestled between the Tiber Island and Sant’Angelo region in Rome, the Pons Fabricius is an incredible example of a Roman arch bridge that has endured the test of time. Walking by it for the first time, its simple design and bold arches stand out. Unlike some of the other bridges of the Tiber, only two arches are needed to connect it from one bank of the river to the other. A massive pier sits the the middle of river, while shallow water trickles by. The bridge is lined by giant leafy sycamore trees to its north, creating a picturesque scene. Walkers pass over it nonchalantly, seemingly ignorant of the great engineering feat it represents, and all it has endured in its over 2000 year history. Despite its undoubtable aesthetic qualities, the lure of the Pons Fabricius truly comes in its age. It’s hard to walk by and not imagine all the history the bridge has quietly witnessed. The long lifespan of the Pons Fabricius does not come by chance. It was carefully designed and constructed by the engineers of Ancient Rome to last, which it has accomplished better than any other bridge in the Roman Empire. The Pons Fabricius serves as a model of Roman ingenuity and is an engineering marvel that has lasted more then two millenniums.
In the era of Spartucus’ slave revolt and Julius Ceasar’s betrayal, the Pons Fabricius was completed in 62 BC. It replaced an entirely wooden bridge, which were common in Ancient Rome before the use of stone bridges. It gets its name from Lucius Fabricius, the curator viarum of Rome, who was in charge of roads at that time and was attributed to originally building the bridge. According to historian Cassius Dio, a giant flood in 23 BC necessitated repairs on the bridge, which were carried out by M. Lollius. These repairs can be seen by the use of brick on parts of the bridge. On the arches of the bridge, two inscriptions mark the satisfactory work of both Fabricius and Lollius, supposedly guaranteeing the solidity of the work for 40 years. One of these inscriptions reads L.FABRICIUS C. F. CURATOR VIARUM FACIUNDUM COERAVIT, meaning “Lucio Fabrizio, Responsible of the Roads, supervised the execution of the job.”
|Inscription on the Bridge|
Despite these repairs, the bridge is thought to be practically in its original state and is widely considered the oldest and best preserved stone bridge in Rome, and possibly the world. At 62 meters long and 5.5 meters wide, it spans part of the Tiber river with two arches, each around 24.5 meters in diameter. In the giant middle pier lies another arch built for times of flooding. Although they aren’t visible today, it is believed to originally contain two more arches at its widest points as seen in the picture below. These were covered once the walls along the Tiber were built to stop flooding in the city beginning in 1875.
|Sketch of the original bridge, date unknown|
Pons Fabricius served as a connection between the mysterious Tiber Island and the Forum Boarium. The island was called by Romans “Intra duos pontes,” meaning “between two bridges,” referring to the Pons Cestius which also connected the mainland to the island at that time. In the first century BC, the Pons Fabricius was used by Pilgrims, using the bridge to get to and from the island for the use of ferries for transportation. There also was a sanctuary on the island, an ancient form of hospital. Due to its expansion, more resources were needed on the island including the daily delivery of food and other supplies. The bridge served as the only way of transporting these things, as the Pons Cestius had not been built yet. In the middle ages, a tower was built on the far side of the bridge on the island, later bought by the Caetani family. They had transformed the island into a small fort, which was later renovated by the Pope, Sixus V, during the mid 16th century. Legend has it the double herms on the bridge today are the heads of 4 architects who worked on this restoration, who unfortunately got into a disagreement with the Pope and were beheaded.
|Herm of the four architects thought to have been beheaded by Pope Sixus V|
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