The story of San Michele a Ripa Grande, a care center for the elderly and orphans

We present the history of the monumental complex of San Michele a Ripa Grande, which, for two centuries, was an important center of assistance to the elderly and orphans and is today the headquarters of the offices of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Tourism

The complex along the Tiber River, built by the popes to help orphans

More than 300 meters long and with a total area of ​​over 25 thousand square meters, the gigantic architectural complex that flanks the Tiber, near Porta Portese, was built in successive phases in about one hundred and fifty years starting from the end of the seventeenth century, mainly thanks to the interest of popes Innocent XI, Innocent XII, Clement XI and Clement XII. Right from the start it was a model for the organization of public assistance with the central Cortile dei Ragazzi which welcomed abandoned young people. A few years later it became a place also used to welcome elderly people in difficulty. The project included some shops and an internal woolen mill to help orphans enter the world of work. In later times a school of fine arts and a school-workshop of tapestries were then established, which acquired great fame as Arazzeria Albani and which continued to produce tapestries until 1926.

The prisons and churches inside

In 1704, Pope Clement XI had a prison for minors added next to the hospital, the orphanage, and the hospice, to which a courtyard for services and a large church was added in the following years. With the construction of the women’s prison, designed by Ferdinando Fuga for Clement XII, the complex was completed and acquired its current appearance in 1735. The complex included two churches: the ancient Santa Maria del Buon Viaggio, frequented by the people of the river port, and the large church designed by Carlo Fontana and completed only in 1835 by Luigi Poletti.

The decline and its’ current use

With the unification of Italy, the decline of San Michele began, with the interruption of welfare activities which were no longer supported by papal benefits. With the exception of the prison function, which remained active until 1972, the rest of the property remained practically abandoned until 1969, when it was acquired by the state. Today it houses the Central Institute for Catalog and Documentation, the Higher Institute for Conservation and Restoration, and the offices of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism. Finally, the Stenditoio room has become a venue for conferences and often used for television shootings and sets.