The hospital

Between myth and history

Like all places rooted in the mists of time, Tiber Island boasts illustrious birthplaces where the boundaries between myth and history survive. Legend has it that the Island’s formation can be traced back to the time when the Romans, in 509 B.C., got rid of the monarchy by ousting Tarquinius Superbus and sacking Campus Martius, a place that the city’s last king had dedicated to the cultivation of grain sacred to Mars.

In order not to commit an ungodly act by feeding on the crops sacred to the god, the citizens decided to tip the sheaves into the Tiber, just where the river formed a large bend at the height of the Forum Boarium. The slowing of the currents near the bend did not allow the water to drag away the sheaves, which, gradually covered by the slime and other debris dragged by the river, gave life to the Island. Recent excavations have uncovered, in the deepest layers of the Island, seeds of wheat.

Also from myth originates the function that the Island has always held, that of a place consecrated to medicine. During the Second Samnite War, around 291 B.C., the city was struck by a severe plague to counteract which a Roman delegation was sent to Epidaurus, Greece, where the temple of the god of medicine, Aesculapius, was located.

Here the very symbol of the god, a serpent, climbed of its own accord onto the “Roman trireme” that sailed to Rome. On the way up the Tiber, the snake got off the ship and headed for the Island in the middle of the river, nestling among the brushwood: that was the place chosen to erect a temple dedicated to the god Aesculapius, who, satisfied, immediately put an end to the plague. Perhaps to commemorate this event, or because the Island has a shape reminiscent of a ship, the banks were later rearranged and covered with travertine and effigies, while an obelisk in the shape of a mast was erected in the center of the Island: by now only a tiny portion of marble remains as a reminder of this phase of the Island, but graphic representations from centuries past, some of them quite imaginative, deliver us a depiction of a real ship, plying the Tiber and remaining anchored to the embankments by means of two bridges, the Cestius and the Fabricius.

And archaeology

In the 1930s during the demolition and earthworks for the expansion of the Hospital important archaeological discoveries were made, witnessed in the Journal of Excavations by assistant Gandolfo Sardo and by a few notes by G. Gatti.

The first document informs us of the discovery of 5 iconic marble statues. No clues emerged during the excavation that could in any way explain the presence of the statues there. It can be assumed, however, that they were placed there all together on the strip of slabs leading to the banks of the Tiber, to be transported elsewhere by river or stolen by the same route.

From G. Gatti, however, we learn that: “during the work a small section of black and white tessera mosaic floor was found lying on the ground, sloping, evidently out of place, fallen.” In the years 1982-’94, during excavation works promoted by the Hospital to gain space in the basement, the Archaeological Superintendence of Rome carried out explorations on several occasions, acquiring important data on the ancient topography of the area.

A first phase of investigations (’82-’86), published by M. Conticello De’ Spagnolis, involved the building’s two courtyards and adjacent outdoor areas.

In the first courtyard (so-called of the Pine) a substructure “homogeneous and formed by rubble and bricks of modern cut and format” was found up to a depth of 4 meters.

In the second courtyard (so-called of the Fishes) at a depth of 2 meters a large marble block was found with an inscription, dated to the first half of the 3rd century AD, containing the mention of a certain Aelius or Aurelius Rugianus legate of the 13th Gemine Legion. Two meters below, however, emerged part of an ancient gabine stone slab edged with travertine slabs, dated mid-1st cent. BCE. C. .

Between ’89 and ’94, a second series of explorations covered the entire second courtyard, bringing to light, at a depth of 3.30 meters, a rectangular hall made of tufa blocks to be identified with the Temple of Iuppiter and an area behind, belonging to the same sanctuary, paved with gabina stone slabs, and already partly highlighted by the ’85 excavation. The flooring of the building, partially preserved, is mosaic. At the foot of the interior walls, decorated with colored plaster, devoid of figured decoration, runs a rectangular-section plinth with a cementitious inner core and red plaster covering. The mosaic floor, with small white tiles arranged in a horizontal warp, has in the center, within a table bordered by a band of black tiles, an inscription, also in small black tiles, probably referable to a restoration of the temple, which we know from Livy dedicated in 194 B.C. .

On the hall insist structures referable, perhaps, to the early phases of the Church of St. John Calibita.

The sanctuary of Aesculapius

The sanctuary of Aesculapius was built in Rome on the model of those that had long existed in the Greek world. In addition to the temple proper it included other buildings arranged together with it within a sacred enclosure. These were, in particular, porticoes intended for the reception and shelter of the faithful and to allow them to sleep so as to receive divine promptings in their dreams.

Its construction must have begun soon after the arrival of the serpent in Rome. The year of the dedication may have been 465 from the founding of Rome, that is, 289 B.C.The temple was to have stood in the southern part of the Island, where the church of St. Bartholomew now stands, with the front facing north.

For the church itself, architectural elements from the dismantled and perhaps partly already collapsed temple building immediately after the end of the ancient world were used-and are still recognizable today. In addition to the numerous marble fragments embedded in the walls of the bell tower and in the mosaic floors of the church, these are mainly the four columns flanking the entrance to the portico and the fourteen columns – seven on each side – that form the two aisles and which, being of different materials (eleven of granite, the others of Greek and African marble) and of different heights (two have large attic bases of white marble), show that they came from other buildings, however they were part of the sanctuary complex (e.g., the porticoes).

As for the marble puteal “wedged” between the steps rising from the nave to the chancel, its pertinence to the temple of Aesculapius could be evidenced precisely by this singular position. It would in fact be referable to antiquity and in any case prior to the building of the church. According to some, one might even recognize there the site of the ancient sacred spring that existed near the temple, and was inherited by popular Christian tradition as a source of healing water.

The Hospitaller Order of St. John of God and the Hospital

The “San Giovanni Calibita” Area General Hospital, more commonly called “Isola Tiberina – Gemelli Isola Hospital,” boasts a centuries-old history that has long characterized much of the health care in Rome. Positioned on Tiber Island, the same island that by legend was chosen by the god Aesculapius to represent a sacred place dedicated to the propitiation of the health of the body, it was almost continuously from 1584 until September 1, 2022 owned by the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God, that is, the religious order whose members were called “bonfratelli” by the Romans.

With the Health Reform, the Nosocomio became a facility classified as an Area General Hospital affiliated with the National Health Service, adapting and expanding its activities by establishing new divisions and services and reorganizing its administrative management. At present, the hospital is the site of a first-level DEA and is included in the garrisons of the Rome ASL RM/A.

The legacy of the Founder of the Order, St. John of God, has manifested itself in the service that the Fatebenefratelli, present with more than 300 works in the 5 continents, have carried out within hospital facilities, not only from an organizational point of view, but above all as a model of care that has Humanization and Hospitality as its watchwords: the Hospital, therefore, as “home of the sick.”

The Order of the Fatebenefratelli received as an inheritance from its Founder St. John of God the Charism of Hospitality, so it devotes itself by mission to the sick and needy by working mainly in the field of health care and social work. The Charism of Hospitality, which differentiates the Fatebenefratelli from other religious orders and is transposed in each of its works, thus includes in itself welcoming, health promotion, accompaniment and commitment to the most vulnerable realities of every time and place, starting from a broad concept of universality and professionalism.

The Hospital in the present day

As of September 1, 2022, hospital management began a new phase in the life of Isola Tiberina – Gemelli Isola Hospital. The birth of the Isola Tiberina – Gemelli Isola Hospital, made possible thanks to the Foundation for Catholic Health, established by the will of the Holy Father Francis in October last year, the Leonardo Del Vecchio Foundation, which together gave birth to SIT, the Isola Tiberina Society, has made it possible to re-establish the financial balance necessary to implement the relaunch plan.

The relaunch, moreover, was managed by the Agostino Gemelli IRCCS University Polyclinic Foundation through the benefit company Gemelli Isola.

These synergies were born out of the courage to believe in the possibility of helping to build health care of excellence for all. It is the same courage that in 1892 led three Fatebenefratelli to recover the management of the Hospital, then in a dilapidated state, taken from the Order after the breach of Porta Pia.

The Hospital aims to be in a healthcare hub, an achievement that will be the result of integrating the tradition of the Isola Tiberina – Gemelli Isola Hospital with the know-how of the Gemelli Polyclinic Foundation. Innovation and tradition are the two guiding lines of this operation, which is part of the Hospital’s centuries-old history.

The path taken is based on an extremely structured project designed to ensure the sustainability of the Hospital, a solid management that aims to ensure continuity of excellence.

Within this framework, in collaboration with the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, we want the Hospital to also be a center for research and training with state-of-the-art facilities. This is a function it has already performed in the past, when in the seventeenth century it was home to a school where personnel were trained to deal with epidemics.

This vocation for research and training projects us into the future and at the same time allows us to consolidate our relationship with the territory, in a perspective that puts people at the center: health workers, collaborators and above all patients with the desire to strengthen our presence in the city of Rome and in the area of reference by bringing benefits to the community through a project that looks at the most fragile and needy people and that will see the entire professional community of the Hospital involved, also in the context of solidarity initiatives that will be organized together with other institutions.

Chiamaci Useful numbers
Useful numbers
Private Activity Cup 06 6923 42 42
Switchboard 06 68 371

Si informa che nei giorni 29 e 30 aprile la sala prelievi, accettazione e consulenze pretest resteranno chiusi.

Ospedale Isola Tiberina - Gemelli Isola | Gemelli Isola