~ Roman Monographs ~

part III
Main Fountains


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The making of the Trevi Fountain substantially marked the end of an age, lasted about two centuries, during which Rome became once again the "queen of waters", as it used to be in ancient times. In the second half of the 18th century, most of the city's streets, squares, private courtyards, gardens, had a fountain, either small or large, either simple or rich. Therefore, the reason why the fountain-makers' activity slowed down, rather abruptly too, is that the people's daily needs had already been satisfied, and so had also the vanity of the rich families who owned mansions and villas, and of the popes who would have been remembered for having sponsored the reopening of the ancient aqueducts and the making of the lavish "display" fountains at their ends.

In order to complete the description of this century, we ought to step back in time a few decades, to the early years of the 1700s, when the unfinished fountain in Trevi Square was still giving pope Clement XI and his many architects a few headaches.


Not far from Porta del Popolo, the northernmost gate, once was Ripetta, the city's second river wharf. Most commercial goods reached Rome by its main wharf Ripa Grande, located in the southern part of the Tiber's course, but wine barrels, timber, and a few other goods coming from the north were delivered here. This had been used as a site for unloading boats and barges since the 1300s, but only at the beginning of the 18th century the river bank was arranged for this purpose.

Architect Andrea Specchi built a broad flight of steps, that from the street level sloped down towards the water; on a semicircular terrace in the centre stood a small fountain, and two columns that marked the water level reached by the frequent river floods. Once again, the marble used for the making of the wharf came from an ancient monument: in 1703 an earthquake had smashed one of the arches of the Colosseum, and the fallen fragments of travertine became the main building material for Ripetta's stairway!

In the mid 1800s, when railway transport was introduced, the two ports gradually lost their importance. By the end of the same century, the Tiber banks were enlarged, and walls were built along their sides, to prevent further floods.
Ripetta port, painting by Hendrik Frans van Lint
Ripetta port in 1730; note the central terrace, with the fountain and the two columns
During these works, Ripetta was completely dismantled, and the same happened to Ripa Grande.
Only a few years later, a new bridge was built on this spot. Almost no trace of Ripetta was left, except the fountain and the two columns with the flood record, all moved to a small square nearby, now named after the same port.
The fountain's design consists of a group of rocks. On the front, two dolphins flank a sea-shell, and all three of them spout water into a small basin, whose wavy side recall the shape of the same shell.
At the back hangs a large coat of arms of Clement XI, who was pope by the time the port was opened. Above the rocks is a small iron lantern, decorated with a star (one of the pope's devices), which provided the port with a source of light at night-time. The composition is surrounded by a second basin, round and plain.
piazza del Porto di Ripetta The fountain dates back to c.1705, while the lantern was added a few years later. Despite having been moved to a new location, it used to be fully functional up to the 1990s, when it turned dry; regretfully, it has never been reactivated. piazza del Porto di Ripetta
(↑ above) coat of arms of Clement XI;
(← left) the front part of the fountain

Very close to this spot is the small fountain featuring the head of an inn-keeper and a wine-barrel (see Fontana della Botticella in part II page 2), also built in the early 1700s.


Just south of the Tiber Island, not very far from the site where the main port Ripa Grande once was, stands another fountain sponsored by Clement XI.
The spot itself is rather charming, crowded with several ancient buildings whose dating spans across Rome's ancient history: the Temple of Vesta from the early centuries of the republican age, the Arch of Ianus and the Arch of the Silversmiths from the imperial age, and the house of the Crescenzi, the church of San Giorgio al Velabro, and the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin from the Middle Ages. Most tourists visit the latter church because under its porch hangs the famous Mouth of Truth. In such a position, the fountain is barely noticed, clearly overwhelmed by the importance of the aforesaid landmarks.
piazza Santa maria in Cosmedin
the star-shaped fountain
Furthermore, the fountain remained dry for many years, and this is another reason why nobody noticed it. Fortunately, in recent years the water started gushing again.
Nevertheless, even when lacking water, this interesting composition can be considered a valuable specimen of late Baroque art.

Its making was commissioned by Clement XI to architect Carlo Francesco Bizzaccheri, who finished it in 1715.

piazza Santa maria in Cosmedin
the coat of arms of Clement XI
The lower basin was designed in the shape of an eight-pointed star, one of the heraldic devices of the Albani family, which the pope belonged to. In the middle stands a group of rocks, a subject that Clement XI had become fond of, probably due to the enormous success of Bernini's Fountain of the Rivers, built when the pope was still a young boy. The same theme had already been used for the aforesaid fountain of Ripetta, and in 1711 also the fountain facing the Pantheon had been altered by replacing the original central element (a simple vase, see page 4) with a similar group of rocks.
Above the rough platform are two kneeling tritons, whose legs intertwine. They raise their arms, holding above their heads the top basin, shaped as a large oyster shell, on whose sides hangs the coat of arms of the Albani family.
piazza Santa maria in Cosmedin
the tritons and the oyster
By this fountain once stood also the long basin featuring a lion's head, mentioned at the end of part II page 2, which in the early 20th century was moved about 100 m (or yards) further south (presently, lungotevere Aventino).


The district officially called Gianicolense, but commonly known as Monteverde, stretches over the hilly western part of modern Rome, at the back of the Janiculum Hill. Up to the early 1900s this area was mainly occupied by a large suburban villa belonging to the Baldini family; nothing of it remains today, except the main mansion, which has been turned into a school, and a small patch of its gardens, presently corresponding to a plaza called largo Alessandrina Ravizza. Here stands a cute 18th century fountain, built by an unknown artist; it features a small round basin with a central nozzle shaped as a pine-cone, resting on the entwined tails of cuoples of dolphins; the water collects into a larger round basin at ground level.
largo A. Ravizza
the fountain from the no longer extant Villa Baldini

other pages in part III

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