A picturesque corner of the Rione Trastevere, this little square is nestled between the Monumental Complex of San Michele a Ripa and the splendid Basilica of Santa Cecilia and recalls the atmosphere of Rome of yesteryear.
Thanks to its proximity to the ancient port of Ripa Grande on the Tiber, active until the 19th century, it had a primary role in the city's trade: here, merchants, sailors, and captains of the boats who carried the most heterogeneous goods and docked in the city port to do their deals.
In the 17th century, the construction of the first nucleus of the Apostolic Hospice of San Michele, the current Monumental Complex of San Michele - over time, a shelter for "poor old men", a conservatory for "unmarried women", an orphanage, a prison and a school of the arts - caused the demolition of several medieval buildings. The area lost its lively port vocation with the subsequent construction of the Tiber walls towards the end of the 19th century. However, the square keeps an authentic and romantic spirit among old buildings, cobblestones and climbing plants.
On the corner with Piazza di Santa Cecilia stands what, according to legend, was the residence of the famous condottiero Ettore Fieramosca, who stayed there on his return from the Challenge of Barletta in 1503, as narrated in the historical novel by Massimo d'Azeglio. Built in the second half of the 12th century, the house, now privately owned, belonged to the Order of the Humiliated, a brotherhood of men and women devoted to poverty and engaged in wool processing suppressed at the end of the 16th century by Pope Pius V. Although restored, the house represents a valuable example of an excellently preserved medieval tower house; a series of brick arches, supported by Ionic columns, recall the presence of an ancient portico, subsequently walled up. The structure - reinforced by a buttress - has an elegant turret decorated with a succession of small hanging arches.
With its evocative and "timeless" appearance, Piazza dei Mercanti has inspired some of the greatest Italian directors and has been the location of famous movies, such as Mamma Roma (1962) by Pier Paolo Pasolini, starring the splendid Anna Magnani, Ladri di Biciclette (1948) by Vittorio De Sica, Il marito (1958) by Nanni Loy, with the unforgettable Alberto Sordi, and Peccato che sia una canaglia (1955) by Alessandro Blasetti, with Sophia Loren, Vittorio De Sica and Marcello Mastroianni.
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