The fountains of Rome have an ancient and glorious history. Examples range from the Eternal City’s glory days in the 1st century AD to its even more glorious days during the Renaissance to the 18th century and beyond.
Other cities offer fountains that are barely beyond the utilitarian. But not Rome. Rome must have a water display that is a work of art, because Rome is itself one enormous museum.
The Trevi is unquestionably the most famous, but it has many competitors for the attention of Rome’s many visitors.
The Fountain of Triton (Fontana del Tritone) is just one stellar example. Designed by the renowned Bernini in 1642, it is a masterpiece in the Baroque style. The central figure is a merman (the male equivalent of a mermaid), seated on a giant clamshell and flanked by dolphins.
Near the Spanish Steps is another Bernini work, his first in the genre. Displaying a half-sunken ship, the Barcaccia was a progenitor of the Baroque style in outdoor sculpture.
There is the Fountain of the Moor (Fontana del Moro), also by Bernini, yet another example of a sea-oriented theme. Sited at the southern tip of the Piazza Navona – itself worth a visit – the fountain depicts Neptune surrounded by his subjects. Four Tritons expel water as sea creatures frolic below.
The Fountain of Neptune adjacent to The Moor was a 19th century addition that features many of the same elements, but in a vastly different style.
One not by Bernini, but clearly influenced by his style, is the Fontana dei Tritoni by Francesco Bizzaccheri located in the Boario Forum in front of the Church of St. Maria. Set between the Temple of Male Fortune and the Temple of Vesta, it was built in 1715 at the dawn of the Age of Reason. Two powerful Tritons kneel on a large outcropping of rock and support a basin from which the fountain’s water shoots.
But without a doubt the Fontana di Trevi, the Trevi Fountain, is the foremost example of the genre in Rome. Originally built in the 1st century AD, it was re-built between 1732 and 1751 at the orders of Pope Clement XII.
At 85 feet (26m) high and 65 feet wide (20m) it is the largest fountain in the city, and among the most beautiful. Sited at the rear of the Palace of the Dukes of Poli, it displays a familiar subject: Neptune, but this time riding a clamshell chariot behind two horses, amid Tritons and flanked by the gods of Health and Wealth.
It is here at the Trevi that hopeful tourists toss coins into the base, prompted by the legend that those who throw three coins into the water will one day return to Rome. The coins represent a healthy sum for the city’s charities. Clever marketing was not unknown even in centuries past.
Nicola Salvi is often credited as the designer, but there are elements that suggest Bernini had a hand in its creation. The water source is from the Aqua Vergine aqueduct, the name of a legend depicted in the fountain itself. A virgin is said to have offered water to thirsty Roman soldiers.
No visit to Rome could be considered complete without seeing at least a few of its many famed fountains, outdoor sculpture at its finest.