The Fountains: Waters of Rome

By Saul Schwartz

Rome has more fountains than any other city in the world. You can live here for 5 years, visit a new fountain every day and still you wouldn’t have seen them all! They are free to view and open both day & night and that makes them a popular attraction. 

Add to the fact, that famous artists throughout the centuries have designed and laboured on these fountains and they are testament of their brilliance. They are not in a museum or in some private collection. They are right here for you to enjoy.

We found 10 fountains, that each have a special story to tell. Let us share their memoirs:

Trevi Fountain

Fontana di Trevi is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome and one of the most famous fountains in the world. Finished in 1762, the stone fountain was completed by a number of sculptors, including Nicola Salvi. Hordes of tourists marvel at the fountain’s extravaganza of sculpture and cascading water within the Piazza di Trevi, both day and night. At night the fountain is lit, but not too brightly.

We threw a coin into the fountain using our right hand over our left shoulder. The coin throwing is said to ensure a return trip to Rome and they are collected and used for charity.

The fountain’s theatrical design includes marble sea creatures commanded by the sea god Oceanus. Oceanus’ chariot is being pulled by two sea horses. Two tritons are leading the horses, while one triton blows his conch shell.

Fountain of the Four Rivers

Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi is the centerpiece of Piazza Navona. This beautiful Baroque piazza is glorious. It is full of outdoor cafes and street artists, strolling locals and tourists. Created in 1651, this sculpture contains an Egyptian obelisk and powerful figures representing the river gods of the Nile, the Ganges, the Danube and the Plata rivers.

Horses plunge through the rocks, along with exotic flora and fauna. This fountain was designed by Bernini for Pope Innocent X.

Sinking Boat Fountain

At the foot of the Spanish Steps, Fontana della Barcaccia literally translates to Barcaccia Fountain but is commonly referred to as the Sinking Boat Fountain. It was built by Pietro Bernini and is powered by the ancient Acqua Vergine, an aqueduct from 19 BC.

The half sunken boat gently spills out water and the bees and suns on the boat constitute the Barberini coat of arms. Barberini Pope Urban VIII commissioned the early Baroque fountain, which was built in 1627-1629.

Triton Fountain

In Piazza Barberini, the Fontana del Tritone by Gian Lorenzo Bernini is a masterpiece of Baroque sculpture. The fountain represents Triton, half-man and half-fish, blowing his horn to calm the waters and spurting a jet of water out of his mouth. Bernini was inspired to design Triton to illustrate a passage from Roman poet Ovid.

During our stay, this piazza also contained a large Menorah, to commemorate the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. The fountain was constructed in 1642-1643 and is located right off of the Barberini stop on the Metro’s A line.

Turtle Fountain

The Turtle Fountain is one of the few fountains in Rome not built for a Pope, but for a private patron. Its was originally planned to be built near Theater of Marcellus, but local patron Muzio Mattei used his influence and money to have the fountain location moved to the small Piazza Mattei, in the block where the members of his family (anyone wanna guess, that they also were named Mattei?) lived.

The Fontana delle Tartarughe, like all Renaissance fountains, was designed to supply drinking water to the Roman population. It was one of a group of 18 new fountains built in Rome in the 16th century to celebrate Pope Gregory XIII’s restoration of a ruined 1st century Roman aqueduct, the Acqua Vergine.

The adorable turtles were added in 1658 or 1659, when the fountain was restored and are usually attributed to Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Fountain of the Arts

In 1926, Pietro Lombardi, a young Roman architect, won a national competition to furnish small drinking fountains, so-called fontanelles, for the different districts of Rome. Each of the 10 fountains had to reflect the history and character of the local area.

Fontana delle Arti in the lovely street Via Margutta (made famous in the 50s movie Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck) represents the many artists who have lived in Via Margutta. The fountain shows a bucket of paint brushes, two opposing masks (one sad and one happy) and artist chairs, one of which makes a little basin. It’s a delightful little fountain, worth a stop when you stroll this beautiful street.

Amphorae Fountain

If you venture out of the normal tourist routes and end up in what some call Rome’s most authentic neighbourhood, you’ll come across another of Pietro Lombardi’s fountains, Fontana delle Anfore in Piazza Testaccio. The smooth style of Pietro Lombardi is easily recognisable.

The fountain was erected here in Piazza Testaccio in 1927, but was moved to Piazza dell’Emporio in the mid-30s. After the closure of the old Testaccio market in 2012, Piazza Testaccio was converted to an open space, reopening in January 2015, with the restored fountain again at its centre.

The Fountain of Amphorae references to the abundance of amphorae which accumulated through trade in Testaccio, and it’s a lovely sight when you sit on the square’s benches and eat a gelato.

Fountain of the Naiads

Renovating ancient Roman aqueducts were popular publicity projects for several Popes and so, in the last decade of his pontificate, Pope Pius IX arranged and financed the reconstruction of the ancient aqueduct Aqua Marcia, severely damaged by the Goths in the 6th century.

To celebrate the restoration, the waters of the aqueduct were to end in a fountain and the first Fontana delle Naiadi, at first a simple, large circular pool, was built. The Pope inaugurated it on 10 September 1870, only 10 days before the Capture of Rome and of the end of the Papal states.

You may also like to read about:

The fountain was later moved a few metres as urban planning changed, and the city of Rome took the opportunity to rebuild it. First they added lions, but they were in 1910 replaced with four works in bronze by sculptor Mario Rutelli, representing the Nymph of the Lakes, the Nymph of the Rivers, the Nymph of the Oceans and the Nymph of the Underground Waters.

The very sensual and bawdy positions of the statues, and the sheen of wet provocative bodies from the water, turned out to be an immoral and indecent spectacle. A wooden fence was erected around the fountain to prevent too much peeking, and the puritans of Rome wanted the sexy Nymphs removed. Luckily, for posterity, they failed and today you can admire these frisky nymphs in open view.

Fountain of the Mask of Santa Sabina

Let me start by revealing, that the mask doesn’t look like Santa Sabina (as far as I know) but is named so, because it’s decorating the wall of Basilica di Santa Sabina on the Aventine hill. And we brought you all the up here, not only for the fountain, but also for the amazing views from the nearby park Giardino degli Aranci, overlooking the Trastevere neighborhood with river Tiber at your feet.

The Fontana del Mascherone di Santa Sabina you see today, is the marriage of a mask from 1593 with an ancient tank made from Egyptian granite, supposedly found in the Roman Forum near the Arch of Septimius Severus. The mask was created for a water reservoir to water the cattle grazing in Campo Vaccino. And Campo Vaccino was actually the name, the Roman Forum was given in the Middle Ages and Renaissance because it was simply used as a field for livestock, since the ancient Forum was nothing than a pile of ruins.

So, the ancient tank from the Foro Romano met the younger mask from Campo Vaccino in 1935 and were joined in an architectural marriage in this romantic setting. And they lived happily ever after.

Fountain in Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere

We end our tour of fountains with the probably oldest fountain in Rome; the one in the charming neighborhood of Trastevere, just in front of Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere. A fountain is believed to have stood in this square since the 8th century, but the exact date it was built is unknown.

The fountain you see today is mainly the work of Renaissance architect Donato Bramante – the architect of St. Peter’s Basilica – in the 1500s. In 1659, the fountain was connected to the Acqua Paola aqueduct and remodeled again by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. He replaced the octagonal basin, moved the fountain from its original place in front of the church to the center of the piazza and added sculpted seashells around the basin.

At the end of the 17th century, architect Carlo Fontana replaced Bernini’s seashells with his own sculpted seashells. Since then, it has been rebuilt and restored three times, but the renovations have all been faithful to the original design.

And so, it quite poetically encompasses the beauty and legacy of Rome; layer upon layer of history, carefully attended by the City of Rome to preserve for future generations.

More info

Follow Saul into The Vatican – Rome of the Popes to uncover this miniature state with maximum to see. To learn more about ancient Roman history, you might like to walk In the Footsteps of the Romans – Rome or check out Three World War II Sites in Rome.

About Saul Schwartz

Saul lives in Alexandria, Virginia and has lived in the Washington, D.C. area since 1984. He loves to travel throughout Europe with his wife and family and particularly enjoys interacting with local residents and learning about life in their city and country.

He has visited Berlin for one weekcruised on the Romantic Danube, wrote a 1-week city guide for London, roamed the ancient architecture of Rome and much more! Check out all Saul’s contributions.  

Discover more

Get under the skin of Rome by staying here a bit longer than just one week. We can strongly recommend Crib Med for medium-term rentals in the eternal city.

apartment, rentals, monthly, rome, italy, Crib Med

Learn more

Got something to share? We'd love to hear from you!!