Rome’s famous prison was originally built as a convent.

Its name, Regina Coeli, means “Queen of the Heavens”.

Living in Regina Coeli

In 1944, Marcella Monaco was twenty-six years old. She was a mother of two young children and married to Alfredo, a prison doctor at Regina Coeli. He was on call most nights and the family apartment was within the prison complex. Their door was a short distance from the main prison entrance at 28 Via della Lungara and their window overlooked the prison courtyard.

Most of the prison staff were unaware that Marcella and Alfredo were members of the socialist party and had joined a resistance group, the Matteotti group. They risked arrest because of this.

Marcella and Alfredo often hosted meetings of the Matteotti group at their apartment; it felt like a safe place because no-one would expect that in Regina Coeli! Sometimes, one or two of the group members spent the night at the apartment and Marcella would give them food. Alfredo had patients in the countryside who had little money but paid him with whatever they had, such as flour, eggs and meat, which supplemented the family’s rations.

Regina Coeli in 1944

Regina Coeli had several different wings. Some were occupied by ordinary criminals but two were designated for political or resistance prisoners. One wing was under Italian control and the other run by the Germans.

Alfredo was able to travel through the Italian section and would pass and receive messages, sometimes with the aid of helpful warders. He had some access to the German controlled wing, but his movements there were restricted, and he was watched more closely. If prisoners fell ill, he could visit them in the infirmary at any time.

Marcella, like Alfredo, had considerable freedom within the Italian section, as she helped to look after the guards’ children and gave them clothes and toys. The guards’ wives confided in her, and Alfredo gave them medical treatment free of charge.

Regina Coeli was overcrowded, and conditions throughout were grim, but political prisoners preferred to be in the Italian wing. The prison governor, Donato Carretta, tried to help the inmates where he could but his powers were limited in the German wing. There were stories of prisoners being tortured there and, by early 1944, an increasing number of its inmates were deported for fo