Let Rome in Tiber Melt

Like the Rubicon, which Julius Caesar so famously crossed in 49 BC, the River Tiber is forever associated with Ancient Rome in my mind. This is thanks to Shakespeare who, at the start of Anthony and Cleopatra, gave Mark Anthony the epic line: “Let Rome in Tiber melt and the wide arch of the ranged empire fall. Here is my space.” It’s a play I learnt by heart at school.

Mark Anthony makes a heartfelt expression of his love to the indomitable queen-cum-goddess Cleopatra. She, he is saying, is more important to him than Rome and the whole of the Empire, of which he is one of its three rulers. “Excellent falsehood!” is her response, leaving Anthony twisting and turning in the wind unable to grasp her capriciousness.

Isola Tiberina, with Ponte Rotto or Broken Bridge in foreground, Rome, Italy
Isola Tiberina, with Ponte Rotto or Broken Bridge in foreground, Rome, Italy
Isola Tiberina, Rome, Italy
Isola Tiberina, Rome, Italy
Isola Tiberina, Rome, Italy
Isola Tiberina, Rome, Italy
Isola Tiberina, Rome, Italy
Isola Tiberina, Rome, Italy

These words came to mind crossing the River Tiber on the Ponte Fabricio on our way to the Trastevere district. Rome’s great history seemed spread out before us as we walked to the Isola Tiberina, the small island that sits picturesquely in the middle of the Tiber. It’s a beautiful place, home to the Basilica San Bartolomeo all’Isola which dates from 998 AD, and a hospital established in the 16th century.

We’d spent the morning wandering around Rome’s former Jewish Ghetto, and were headed for lunch amongst the fascinating narrow lanes of the Trastevere. These two areas are incredibly atmospheric and shouldn’t be missed if you’re visiting.

Rome’s Jewish Ghetto is a place loaded with meaning. Founded in 1555, all Jews in Rome were required to live in this area, which was prone to flooding from the nearby River Tiber. Rome wasn’t unique, there were Jewish ghettos across Europe, but Rome’s ghetto was controlled by the Vatican and Jews had to swear loyalty to the Pope.

Jewish district, Rome, Italy
Jewish district, Rome, Italy
Jewish district, Rome, Italy
Jewish district, Rome, Italy
Jewish district, Rome, Italy
Jewish district, Rome, Italy

Life in the ghetto was made deliberately miserable, and it was renowned for its overcrowding and poverty. Surrounded by high walls and locked gates, the inhabitants lived in near isolation from the city around them, to the extent that they developed their own dialect. The walls of the ghetto were only torn down in 1888, the last in Western Europe.

The ghetto was largely demolished and little survives today. Slightly over 50-years later the Nazis would reinvent the Jewish Ghetto as part of the Final Solution. Europe’s Jews would once again be forced to live in crowded squalor, exploited by their captors before being sent to their deaths in the Concentration Camps. The medieval concept of the ghetto would have been well understood to all in the 1940s.

Near the Teatro Marcello, Jewish district, Rome, Italy
Near the Teatro Marcello, Jewish district, Rome, Italy

Today the area is home to an impressive synagogue and plenty of streets lined with restaurants. It is also right next door to the Teatro Marcello, an ancient Roman theatre. Crossing over the Tiber we headed to the Trastevere district, which is filled with enchanting cobbled streets and glorious piazzas.

We wandered at length through the area before having an al fresco lunch just off the Piazza di Santa Maria, home to the Basilica di Santa Maria. It’s an area with a distinct feel. In part that’s down to its working class history, but also because it’s reinvented itself as a trendy area of bars, restaurants and clubs. There’s a touch of London’s Hoxton about it, just with a backdrop of medieval buildings.

Trastevere, Rome, Italy
Trastevere, Rome, Italy
Trastevere, Rome, Italy
Trastevere, Rome, Italy
Trastevere, Rome, Italy
Trastevere, Rome, Italy
Basilica di Santa Maria, Trastevere, Rome, Italy
Basilica di Santa Maria, Trastevere, Rome, Italy
Musicians, Piazza di Santa Maria, Trastevere, Rome, Italy
Musicians, Piazza di Santa Maria, Trastevere, Rome, Italy

This is the area to come for good food, alternative cocktails and beers from microbreweries unknown to the outside world. It’s also where I bought a €3 ice cream from a street side gelateria, and was rewarded with the largest portion of ice cream I’ve ever eaten in one sitting. It was hot, I’m certain I deserved it.

This is definitely a part of Rome to be explored in greater depth the next time I visit … and not just because they serve huge ice cream portions for a ridiculously small amount of money.

Trastevere, Rome, Italy
Trastevere, Rome, Italy
Trastevere, Rome, Italy
Trastevere, Rome, Italy
Trastevere, Rome, Italy
Trastevere, Rome, Italy
Trastevere, Rome, Italy
Trastevere, Rome, Italy
Trastevere, Rome, Italy
Trastevere, Rome, Italy

7 thoughts on “Let Rome in Tiber Melt

  1. The entire play? “(your) salad days, when (you) were green in judgement?”
    😉

    1. Ha, yes exactly. Salad is, unfortunately, wasted on the young!
      I could literally recite the entire play, cover to cover. Those were the days when there was still space in my brain for such feats of memory, no so any more I fear.

      1. “And all the world is a stage, and men and women merely players?” (Or something close?) Be good my friend.

  2. Have I mentioned how I love the angles in which you take your photos? The Isola Tiberina is fascinating. It looks as if it was assigned a seat on the bend, and simply remained rooted there over the centuries. There must have been a lot of history to pick up as you walked through. I’m tempted.

    1. It’s a tempting city, and I think temptation is there to be given into? Thanks for the comment on the photos, it was trial and error because I had a camera lens that wasn’t wide enough for narrow European streets. The angle gains you more ‘space’. Best wishes, Paul

      1. Aha, so it was a result of an “accidental” attempt that got such great images? Even your lenses have given in to the temptation of adventure! 🙂

        1. Invention is the offspring of necessity, as they say!

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