From strolls on the sidewalks beneath the shade or runs that snake along the bends at the banks to photo ops en route to the Castel Sant’Angelo, millions encounter the beautiful bridges that safety pin the seam that is the Tiber River.
Many of these bridges are absolute masterpieces and are still standing tall since ancient times. Ponte Fabricio, for example, links Campus Martius to Tiber Island and was built in 62 B.C., while Ponte Sant’Angelo of 134 A.D. features travertine marble masterpieces á la Bernini.
Though the bridges house the feet and wheels of travelers daily, they also unknowingly host another set of guests: the homeless community.
Caught in between the hustle and bustle and the incredible sights, I hadn’t really been able to steadily investigate the foundations of the bridges. However, a morning tour with Tom Rankin immediately exposed that harsh reality in an unexpected way.
Amidst being amazed by the very history of the bridges and their craftsmanship and learning of Rankin and his colleagues’ plans to cultivate a contemporary art scene down by the murky water, I was flabbergasted upon seeing one man’s refuge from the elements.
Piles of litter and an inexplicable stench were not overshadowed by the fig trees that provided the fruits of survival. Seeing his fishing equipment made my stomach churn after being told that the fruits de la mer were anything but the créme de la créme. Complete with a heap of blankets upon a dusty mattress and rusty metal lawn chairs, the man had created a home shaded by a pathway that leads to the ancient sewage system.
Rankin reassured us of the idea in saying that there would be much work invested in cleaning up the grime lining the walls that protect the city from flooding disasters. He even noted that there are she-wolf inscriptions carved in those walls that would be uncovered by a good power cleaning. It is true, thus, that there is great potential.
However, while a contemporary art scene would showcase many a talent and form more traffic and character at the base, the first step towards this refurbishment may be better off taken in working to improve the lives of those surviving on the brink.