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A walk among the fountains

Our walk starts at the Fontana delle Naiadi (Fountain of the Naiads), in Piazza della Repubblica. This is the most beautiful of Rome’s modern fountains, created for the purpose of providing a monumental erspective to the then very elegant Via Nazionale.

It was made in 1888 to the design of Alessandro Guerrieri who placed four gypsum lions around the large round basin. These lions were replaced in 1901 by four bronze groups by the sculptor Mario Rutelli, representing the Nymph of the Lakes, the Nymph of the Rivers, the Nymph of the Oceans and the Nymph of Underground Waters.

One stop on the underground railway  (metro) takes you to Piazza Barberini, in the centre of which is located Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s unmistakable Fontana del Tritone. Four dolphins with upturned tails support an open scallop shell astride which there is a triton blowing a conch. This was designed by the artist in 1643, and was his first work in a field in which he went on to display such great talent and originality.

Until the end of the 18th century, a macabre spectacle was enacted in front of this fountain: in fact, the corpses of unidentified persons were laid out and a town crier invited the population to identify the bodies.

Rome is the only city in the world that possesses some two thousand drinking fountains erected exclusively so that the general public could quench their thirst at them. In popular parlance they are familiarly known as nasoni (“big noses”) because of their shape: simple cast iron fountains that have always been popular with Romans and tourists, as a free oasis of refreshment that is always open!

From Piazza Barberini, we take Via Sistina as far as Trinità dei Monti. At the foot of the flight of steps you can admire the splendid fountain by Pietro Bernini, called the Barcaccia (“Old Barge”). The theme of this work stems from the flood of 1598, which enabled boats to reach as far as the spot where the fountain stands today.

Pope Urban VIII commissioned Bernini to make the fountain in 1627: in that area, however, the pressure of the water in the Acqua Vergine aqueduct, which still supplies the fountain, was too low for there to be any jets of water or cascades. This inconvenience was resolved, therefore, by designing the boat immersed in the water below street level, with water fountains spurting from the stern and the bows.

 If you walk along Via del Babuino, you can discover a very curious fountain: that of the Babuino. The singular ugliness of the ancient statue that adorned the square basin drew the attention of the Romans, who first of all started calling the divinity depicted “the Baboon”, then gave the statue’s name to the street, and finally included it among the city’s other “talking statues”.

Returning towards Via del Tritone, a visit just has to be made to the fountain which the film “La Dolce Vita” has given a sort of eternal place in the public imagination: the Fontana di Trevi. Made as a monumental celebration of the Acqua Vergine, the water conveyed to Rome by the aqueduct which Agrippa had constructed in 19 BC, this fountain has been remodeled and replaced in the course of the centuries. It arouses a feeling of surprise and wonderment due to its imposing structure, which seems to “fill” the entire little piazza. Here, it is the custom to turn your back on the fountain and to throw a coin into the water over your shoulder: this action makes it certain, it is said, that you will one day return to Rome.  

A fifteen-minute walk in the direction of the Ghetto will bring you to a delightful Florentine-style fountain, the Fontana delle Tartarughe (the Tortoise Fountain) in Piazza Mattei.

You come upon it all of a sudden, coming along one of the characteristic little roads leading to it, bounded by some fine 16th and 17th-century buildings (palaces). Four graceful young boys each raises an arm holding a little tortoise to drink the fresh water fed into the basin at the top by a submerged jet. A real jewel!

Having come to Piazza Mattei, chosen several times in the past as a natural motion picture set, take advantage to walk just a few steps into the Rome Ghetto and to taste dishes of Jewish tradition in one of the several eating places.

A few hundred yards more, and you come to the Fontana dei Tritoni: this 18th-century fountain was constructed in 1717 at the design of the architect Carlo Bizzaccheri, who conceived the star-shaped basin in honour of Pope Clement XI Albani, whose crest in fact contains an eight-pointed star. The fountain is situated in a fascinating context, but suffers from the drawback of always having been afflicted by a lack of water.

You just have to cross the road to reach the Bocca della Verità (the Mouth of Truth): why lose the opportunity and the emotion of putting your hand into the mouth, recalling the famous scene in the film “Roman Holiday”? We have reached the road along by the Tiber.

So now we resume our itinerary,heading for Piazza Navona. It is in this marvellous Baroque piazza that you can admire Bernini’s Fontana dei Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers). Surmounting the rocks are four figures, personifying rivers symbolizing the continents known in past ages: the Danube, the Ganges, the Rio de la Plata and the Nile. According to tradition, the poses of the statues of the Nile and of the Rio de la Plata, as also that of the statue of S. Agnese in the church of that name (Sant'Agnese in Agone) facing the fountain, can be ascribed to the rivalry between Borromini and Bernini. In fact, the Rio de la Plata has its hand raised to ward off the collapse of the façade of the church, while the Nile has its face covered, not alluding to the fact that its source was as yet unknown, but to the refusal to look at Borromini’s work; in the same way the inhabitants of Rome interpret S. Agnese’s gesture of touching her breast as the assurance given by Borromini that her church would not collapse.


Our stroll finally takes us across the river. Once we are in Trastevere, in fact, we can make our way up to the Fontanone del Gianicolo, or, to give it its real name, the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola, which was built for Paul V (between 1608 and 1612) by Flaminio Ponzio, while the semicircular basin was added by Carlo Fontana in 1690. Its structure is simple, inspired by Roman triumphal arches. At the top, the inscription celebrates the merits of Paul V, who brought the Trajan aqueduct back into operation. The semicircle of the fountain looks onto a panoramic terrace from which the whole of Rome can be seen: truly a sight not to be missed. 

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