The Bridges of Rome

It is very hot in Rome at the moment so last week, when a friend invited me to the launch of a book written by a relative of hers, I wasn’t too keen on being trapped in a hot bookstore. Luckily, she sent me a copy of the invitation and I saw that the event was to take place by the river in the evening. In the summer, a good part of the river bank is lined with little temporary cafes, restaurants and shops and I thought it would be in one of these. At least it would be cool by the river!

When I got there, I was surprised to find that the event was being held on a boat and we were going to go on a little cruise along the river. I had never been on a boat on the Tevere so I was excited to be there. The boat had an open space at the top where we were seated and an area below where food and drinks were served.

The book was essentially about the bridges of Rome and as the boat left the dock, we started out with a quiz on how many bridges there are in total (I said 10 but there are 37!), which one is the oldest (the one at the Isola Tiberina which dates to between 62 and 37 BC, I got that right at least but little else…). After the quiz, as we passed under the bridges, we were given a most entertaining account of Rome’s bridges, their history and related anecdotes.

The Tevere is about 20 to 30 metres below street level and feels cut off from the city. At every bridge, there are steps going down to the river bank where the atmosphere is very different from that along the embankment at street level. Being in a boat gives one yet another perspective. Castel Sant’Angelo was originally the Mausoleum of the Emperor Hadrian. Over subsequent centuries, more and more levels were added culminating with Papal apartments at the top. It was the first time I was able to see the different levels so clearly. Both the Castel Sant’Angelo and the Palazzo della Giustizia are gigantic at street level but don’t seem as dominating from the river though just as imposing.

What I enjoyed most of all was seeing the little floating swimming clubs and the life of the river which one has no idea about when at street level. I’m not sure I would want to swim in the Tevere and I didn’t see anyone in the water though I did see plenty of people having a drink in the club bars on the boats. It was great to see people kayaking and canoeing and possibly practising for Dragon type boat races. There were runners and people taking their dogs for a walk along the river bank. I wish the river was more on a level with the street but one has to remember that the areas adjacent to the river wouldn’t exist without the embankment on account of flooding.

As we returned to Ponte Sisto where we had started out, the sun had just set and we saw San Pietro bathed in orange light. A beautiful sight at any time but even better from a boat.

By the time we docked, it was too late to have an aperitivo by the river but I hope to do so before I return to Toronto next week.

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