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5 fantastic fountains in Rome: the stories behind the masterpieces

23rd Aug 2016

Fountains are often in the news these days. Photos of bikini-clad tourists frolicking in the fountain on the Gianicolo caused widespread indignation, while an Anita Ekberg imitator who blew kisses to the crowds from the Trevi Fountain was given a 450 euro fine.

As temperatures soar during the Roman summer, a dip in the fountain can seem tempting. But try to resist - splash yourself with a bit of water from a nearby nasone (drinking fountain), and admire the fountains from a distance. Rome is full of spectacular fountains, so it’s worth keeping an eye out whenever you’re in a piazza. Here are five of the best:

1. Trevi Fountain

This extravagant Baroque fountain is deservedly one of the most iconic monuments in Rome, and attracts tens of thousands of visitors every day. The fountain was built in the 17th century, but the history of this spot dates back to Roman times. The Trevi Fountain marks the intersection of two Roman aqueducts known as the Acqua Vergine and the Aqua Virgo.

Legend has it that if you stand with your back to the fountain and throw a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder, you’ll return to Rome one day. It’s been estimated that tourists throw approximately 3,000 euros into the fountain each day. These coins are then collected and donated to charities including the Italian Red Cross - an extra to reason to carry out the coin-throwing ritual when you visit Trevi Fountain on your Rome Night tour.

2 . Fontana dell’Acqua Paola

This fountain on the Gianicolo - the hill above Trastevere - is more commonly known as the Fonantone (“big fountain”). Built in 1612 to mark the end of a restored Roman aqueduct, the form of the fountain would later inspire the architect of the Trevi Fountain.

Cinephiles may recognise the fountain from the memorable opening scene of Paolo Sorrentino’s film La Grande Bellezza - choral singing inside the fountain, and a heart attack on the scenic terrace.

3. Fountain of the Four Rivers

Bernini designed this theatrical fountain in Piazza Navona, having won the commission through furbizia (cunning) - secretly placing a model of the fountain in a room that the Pope would pass through. The Pope commented, “This is a trick … It will be necessary to employ Bernini in spite of those who do not wish it, for he who desires not to use Bernini’s designs, must take care not to see them”.

The Fountain of the Four Rivers represents four major rivers of four continents, symbolising global papal power. Aside from the theatricality of its statues - river gods, snakes and horses - the fountain is notable for the Egyptian obelisk at the centre. If you look at the top of the obelisk, you’ll see a dove carrying an olive branch. This is the symbol of the Pamphili family, whose palazzo overlooks the square.

Bernini’s fountain is particularly spectacular at night, due to the dramatic lighting, and it’s a highlight of our Rome at twilight tour.

4. Fontana delle Tartarughe

Explore the winding streets of the Jewish Ghetto and you’ll eventually stumble across this charming 16th century fountain in Piazza Mattei. Beloved by tourists and locals alike, the Fontana delle Tartarughe (“turtle fountain”) is striking for its unusual design. Three naked boys reach out their hands to catch turtles falling from the basin above. Bernini, who seems to have left his mark everywhere, may have been responsible for the later addition of the turtles.

To discover the intriguing story behind this fountain’s creation, join our Secrets Rome tour.

5. Fontana della Barcaccia

The fountain in the middle of Piazza di Spagna is known as the Barcaccia (“ugly boat”) and was designed by Bernini’s father. The boat owes its unusual shape - that of a half-sunken ship - to a historical event that has been mostly forgotten by most modern day Romans. In 1598 the Tiber flooded, and a boat washed up in the piazza. This surreal sight was the inspiration for the Berninis 30 years later.

During your visit to Rome, don’t forget the humble nasone. They may not be as beautiful, but on a hot summer’s day there’s nothing better than finding one of Rome’s 2,500 drinking fountains.

~by Alexandra Turney~