All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in January 2010.
Porto di Ripa Grande (Book 5) (Map C3) (Day 6) (View C11) (Rione Trastevere)
The decision by Romulus to found Rome near the Tiber was to a great extent due to the trade opportunities the river provided: boats of a relatively large size were able to reach the new town from the sea; at the peak of its development the population of Ancient Rome was in the region of 1,000,000; the supply chain was mainly based on goods from the provinces of the empire which reached the harbours of Ostia and Porto at the mouth of the Tiber. They were stocked in large warehouses and then loaded on boats which landed them at the horrea (warehouses) located on the left bank of the river to the south of the Aventine hill.
In the late XIXth century the Tiber lost its role as a trade route as a consequence of the
high walls built to prevent floods and development of the railroad. The custom houses were all demolished to make room for the lungotevere, the street along the Tiber: in 1914 a modern bridge was named Ponte Sublicio. The ruins of the ancient bridge by the same name were blown up to facilitate the flow of the river. The granaries were pulled down or converted into workshops.
According to President de Brosses, a French traveller who visited Rome in 1739, beggars amounted to a quarter of the population; maybe his assessment was not based on accurate research, but certainly pauperism, the state of being poor and relying on charitable assistance for living, was a normal condition for a significant part of the population of Rome. The city attracted poor people from the countryside and the many institutions founded by the popes to tackle pauperism in a way caused its growth.
In 1693 Pope Innocent XII bought the charitable institution and commissioned Carlo Fontana the enlargement of the existing building; Fontana added another storey to it and built two identical blocks at its sides; a fourth block was completed by 1714. The new complex housed in separate sections also old men and women and unmarried women. The boys mainly worked in a wool factory, but also a printing press was installed in the premises reserved to them. Fontana built also a large church inside one of the blocks; its bells can be seen from the outside (and are shown in the image used as background for this page).
Ospizio di S. Michele was the largest charitable institution of Rome until the second half of the XIXth century, when it was no longer thought to be a suitable location for an orphanage. It fell into abandonment in particular after WWII, during which it had been occupied by German and Allied troops. A thorough renovation of the internal setup of Ospizio di S. Michele started in 1973 and at its end, a very large section of it was assigned to Istituto Superiore per la Conservazione ed il Restauro, the Italian body in charge of coordinating the restoration of works of art. The wool factory had very large halls for drying the thread; they now are used for handling the restoration of large detached frescoes.
In medieval time a tower of the ancient walls of Rome along the river was turned into the bell tower of S. Maria della Torre, a small church which was used by the sailors who worked at Ripa Grande. It was pulled down by Carlo Fontana when he enlarged Ospizio di S. Michele; a new church for the sailors was built inside the hospice, but with a separate entrance. S. Maria del Buon Viaggio means St. Mary of the Safe Journey; Fontana preferred not to disrupt the design of the new building and for this reason the existence of the church is hardly noticeable; the church has been closed for very many years.
In 1701-04 Carlo Fontana was commissioned by Pope Clement XI the construction of a juvenile prison; the inmates were not necessarily offenders, they could just be boys having shown a rebellious character; the purpose of the institution was to promote their re-education; they worked in the large central hall. The building designed by Fontana is located on the rear of Ospizio di S. Michele and it was seen for a long period as a very advanced example of prison. Today it is occasionally used for exhibitions.
In 1734 Pope Clement XII commissioned Ferdinando Fuga the construction of a prison for women; it was located at the southern end of Ospizio di S. Michele opposite Porta Portense.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page: