History of Medicine in Trastevere History of Medicine in Trastevere April 1995 Sergio Caggìa/Paul Gwynne In Trastevere there is the Museum of the History of Health which forms part of the hospital of Santo Spirito in Sassia, there is the ancient Pharmacy (farmacia) inside the convent of the discalced Carmelites (Carmelitani Scalzi, literally the shoeless Carmelites) at piazza della Scala and there are three secret flower gardens inside the hospital of Regina Margherita. All these places are open only in the morning and so an early start to your itinerary is advised, unless you want to make two journeys. You could start from the ancient farmacia on Piazza della Scala. In the medieval period it was quite common to have a flight of stairs running up the outside the house, instead of inside. You can see fine examples at the Arco degli Acetari (a little square hidden along Via del Pellegrino, reached by walking under an arch on your left at the beginning of this road coming from the Campo de' Fiori). In Trastevere itself there is another example at Vicolo dell'Atleta (a side street off Via dei Salumi); also at Casa Particappa (Via S.Angelo in Pescheria - behind the Portico d'Ottavia). Another set of these outside staircases used to be beside a house built by Pope Pius IV (1559-1565) to recieve converted prostitutes the 'convertite dalla mala vita'. This was near the Porta Settimiana, at the beginning of Via della Lungara the pilgrimage way from the port of Rome- on the right bank of the Tiber at Trastevere -to the Basilica of St Peter's. According to legend, under the flight of stairs of this house was a painting of the Madonna. One day a midwife named Cornelia uttered a prayer at this image of Mary for a little girl who had been born dumb, when miraculously the girl suddenly began to speak. This site became place of pilgrimage and Pope Clement VIII built a church there. The church was named St Maria della Scala (St Mary of the stair, stair in Italian is scala). The Carmelitani Scalzi- the religious order -were charged by the Pope to look after it on 1 April 1597, almost 400 years ago. The painting can still be found inside the church on Piazza della Scala. In their convent beside the church (on Piazza della Scala, 23) the monks set up a spezieria to store the medical herbs grown in their gardens; then they instituted a six-years course on the cultivation of herbs for the fathers that had that particular responsibility. The place became an important research centre for the curative effects of herbs- in their antique pharmacy/museum they still preserve not only the recipes (preserved in an antique manuscript written in 1634), but also some original remedies such as the water used to combat the plague and antibiotic ointments. The knowledge of the Carmelite monks, expert in theorical and practical pharmacy, was used to help both the poor and needy while at the end of XVIII century the same monks became pharmacists to the popes, from Pius VI (1773) to Pius IX (1875). In 1875 the convent was taken over by the state and about 5.000 books belonging to the Carmelites passed into the National Library. Within three months the pharmacy was bankrupt and put under the hammer, but fortunately the monks were able to recuperate their loss and carry on with their activities until January 1954. This farmacy is special and is worth a visit because it is one of the most ancient in Europe with original fixtures and fittings. It has three rooms: the shop, the laboratory and the herb-store. Today, as a reminder of their past activities, the monks produce herb liquors made according to the ancient recipes at the Liquorificio. Nowadays at Piazza della Scala, 23 there is a new farmacia, as you walk in there's a door on your left and a bell to ring to the Liquorificio. It can be visited everyday 9am-11am, but first you need to fix an appointment with father Luigi (tel: 5806245 9am-12 noon - call at least one day in advance). The best way to visit the pharmacy is to organise a group of 5-12 people and don't forget to leave a little offering for the convent. Not far away is another historical medical site: the hospital of S. Spirito in Sassia, the oldest hospital in Rome and today also the Historical Health Museum. As its name recalls, the site is anciently associated with the Saxon community in Rome. In 728 A.D. Ina, king of the Saxons, founded a church and a hospice for native pilgrims- hence the name Sassia from the Latin Saxia. He also gave an image of Mary with the Christ Child which is still jelously guarded in the church of Santo Spirito in Sassia the facade of which can be found along Borgo Santo Spirito. In the XII century Pope Innocent III founded the first Apostolic Hospital for the Sick and for Abandoned Children. The German pilgrims moved and established themselves in the nearby area of the Borgo, on the other side of Via della Conciliazione. (A fresco by Raphael in the Vatican Stanze depicts a scene of the Fire that ravaged the Borgo and which was miraculously quenched by a blessing from Pope Innocent IIII.) To reach there walk under the Porta Settimiana and along the Via della Lungara to the end. When you arrive at Piazza della Rovere you'll see the Hospital in front of you, the big Santo Spirito door open through the Vatican walls on the left and the Lungotevere in Sassia on the right. The entrance to the Museum is on Lungotevere in Sassia ,3 down the stairs to the right. It is open Mon-Wed-Fri 10am-12noon. While walking Via della Lungara take note of a little trattoria at number 41/a called 'da Giovanni'. Here there is home-cooking at a modest price, for a full meal you won't spend more than 12-15.000 lire. For a bowl of pasta and a salad, plus wine 7-8.000 lire!! It could be a good place for a lunch of Roman specialities on your way back to Trastevere. In the museum there can be found old instruments, anatomical prints and a reconstruction, with original objects, of a chemical laboratory of the XVII century. The itinerary could continue with a visit to the three cloisters inside the building. The first two cloisters can be found by walking through a little door open beside the entrance to the Museum of History of Health. These are not particularly beautiful but once there its worth a look. The church is, however, beautiful. Return to Piazza della Rovere and pass through the Porta S. Spirito to Via dei Penitenzieri where at the beginning of the street you can see the Cortile del Pozzo (the courtyard of the well) at this entrance to the Hospital. At the corner of Via dei Penitenzieri and Borgo Santo Spirito you'll find the Church of S. Spirito in Sassia. I find this church beautiful because of the colour scheme: it's surely worth a visit. Outside the church, the left side of the facade, along the Borgo you'll find the door to the Palazzo del Commendatore, the house of the president of the Hospital. The courtyard is as fine as the interior of the church. As you arrive you'll see a fountain (1614) that comes from the Vatican and, above, a curious clock with a cardinal's hat (1827) and a lizard marking the hours. You will also notice the entrance of the old Spezieria (storage place for medicinal herbs) and the entrance to the Lancisiana Accademy -founded in 1714- with its library of some 17.000 books on the History of Medicine. From here you could either walk back to Trastevere (with a stop at Giovanni's) or, if it's too late to see the secret gardens inside the Regina Margherita Hospital, have lunch in the Borgo. There, along Borgo Pio at the number 13, you can find a very cheap trattoria, but to avoid the crowds and queues it's necessary to get there early (before 1pm). It's worth having a look of the secret gardens, perhaps after lunch? There are two entrances on Via Morosini: the receptionist will show you the way. Once there, you will feel miles away from the chaotic Viale Trastevere. The main cloister, with roses and other flowers, has seats and is very sunny. From there you can walk to a garden with a fountain and the entrance to the old church of the hospital and to a second cloister which is even more quiet with huge ancient terracotta storage jars and a well. These gardens are unknown to many tourists and even Romans are unaware of their existence. I spent one month in this hospital in 1987 and I greatly enjoyed having the possibility to pass some of the time in a nice garden and to see visitors. Your visit can only be a pleasure for both you and the Hospital's inmates. Don't be shy of walking here or in similar places as you could often find yourself in a magical spot.