~ There Once Was In Rome... ~
- 6 -

Ripetta Wharf

Ripetta (literally "small bank") was a river wharf located along the uppermost part of the urban course of the Tiber, on on the eastern side; it was smaller than the other wharf, Ripa Grande, in the southern part of the city. In the early 1700s, its original look changed into a much more impressive architecture, thus becoming one of the favourite subjects for painters and engravers.
The site had already been used for mooring and dockage since the 14th century, when the remains of Aurelian's wall still ran next to the river bank.

Ripetta wharf in an 18th century painting (unknown author)

The city maps from the Renaissance and Baroque ages show that the wharf was but a stretch of river bank where the row of houses was interrupted for about 100 metres (or yards).
In 1703 pope Clement XI gave Alessandro Specchi the commission for the new project, which considerably increased the commercial activity on the river.

← Ripetta wharf, in Giovanni Maggi's map (1625)

Ripetta wharf in 1858
Specchi designed an enormous flight of steps divided into two semicircular halves, that from the street level sloped down towards the water. In the centre, in axis with the aforesaid church of St.Jerome, stood a terrace, semicircular as well, but with a reversed orientation, surrounded by a balcony that overlooked the wharf, with a small fountain shaped as a group of rocks and topped by the 8-pointed star of the Albani family (whom the commissioning pope belonged to). At both ends of the terrace, two twin columns were set, where the water levels reached on the occasion of floods from the late 15th century to 1750 were carved.
Along the flight of steps, several segments of a hydrometer were set, whose uppermost part, instead, was walled on the side of the church of St.Rocco, which stands just beyond the site of the wharf (see the map detail above).

At the northernmost end of the stairway (upstream, according to the river flow) stood the customs building, known as doganella ("small customs", to distinguish it from the larger mainland customs building, housed below the remains of the Temple of Hadrian, see Colonna district); at the opposite end was the church of St.Gregory of the Bricklayers, which already stood there since the early 1500s and is, in fact, featured in the map detail above.
In order to implement the project, a great number of large travertine blocks fallen from the Colosseum during an earthquake were used. This was probably the last striking example of the custom of 'stealing' material from ancient monuments, to be used for the making of public facilities. The official opening took place in 1704, on the day of St.Rocco (August 16), in honour of the nearby church.

the fountain of Ripetta wharf, watercolour by Ettore Roesler Franz

plan of the wharf, a French print of 1860
Ripetta was reached by the river traffic that came from the north, i.e. from the upper course of the Tiber, in Sabina region; here came mostly timber (whose deposit was to be found next to the customs office) and wine barrels, carried by a type of vessel called barcacce, with a broad shape and very low sides, which the site appears to be crowded with in all old depictions.

During the 1800s, especially after the introduction of railway transport, Ripetta wharf was increasingly disused and, inevitably, fell into a state of decay. Its fate was sealed when the Municipality decided the making of a new bridge for connecting Campo Marzio district and Prati district, by then under construction.
The first project was a temporary iron structure, finished in 1878, that was called Ripetta Bridge; it joined the eastern bank by the wharf's terrace.

Ripetta Bridge in 1878, when the wharf was still extant →

Ripetta Bridge was privately owned by the company that had built it; it was, in fact, a toll bridge until 1884, when the Municipality acquired it, and took away the charge for crossing it.
When in 1901 the works for the making of the ultimate Cavour Bridge started, the staircase and the terrace were completely removed, so that the large protective walls along the river side could be set into place at the same time: the latter rest on top of the scarce remains of the wharf, now buried below the new riverside walk.

← Cavour Bridge (right) soon after being opened, side by side with
Ripetta Bridge, no longer in use, while large walls had replaced the wharf

picture from the 1920s: the temporary bridge is no longer there, →
but the doganella (building on the left), still standing, was shortly
taken down, together with the houses by St.Jerome's and St.Rocco's

The only parts still visible are the fountain, now dry, described in the Fontains monograph, next to which stands the only surviving column and, nearby, the hydrometer of San Rocco's church, both mentioned in Curious and Unusual. Instead the customs building disappeared, as well as the church of St.Gregory; only the small oratory belonging to the latter was spared: it is now completely surrounded by buildings dating from the mid 20th century, at the bottom of the nearby via Leccosa.

present view of Ripetta (compare the opening picture)