No city in the world can boasts an equal number of monumental city fountains as Rome: enclosed in elegant courtyards, nestled in the gardens of ancient and noble villas, or magnificently embedded in the streets and squares of the historic centre.
Those masterpieces of art, some of which were created by the greatest artists of all time, are part of the immense artistic and cultural heritage of Rome: from the times of the ancient Romans, the authorities at the helm of the government used the fountains to glorify the city and raise the name of illustrious personalities to eternal memory.
The city fountains of Rome are so diverse that each one deserves to be admired, but since almost every square in the historic centre is adorned with one of them, we must choose to tell of those we favor the most. So, here’s a list, made by ItalyXP, of the Top 10 (+1) fountains in Rome.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the greatest sculptor of the 17th century, designed a few of the most impressive fountains in Rome, but among those, this one deserves a special mention, because of the humor and the legends behind it.
Located in the central part of the Piazza di Spagna, at the bottom of the Spanish Steps, the Fontana della Barcaccia (which can be translated as “Fountain of the Worthless Boat” or “Fountain of the Ugly Boat”) was built in 1627 by Bernini. On the fountain, you can note the ornamentation of the suns and bees, which are the emblems of the Barberini family.
The humour? The fountain depicts a sinking boat, half submerged and spouting water out from its sides. Legend says that before the walls along the Tiber were built, the river often flooded and once, during a great flood in 1598, a boat was washed ashore and remained in the square after the water drained away.
An enchanting piece of art, best to be visited early in the morning, in order to avoid the hundreds of tourists that crowd the square everyday and enjoy it in peace before moving on to other sites!
This universally famous “Fontana di Trevi” is the largest of Rome’s fountains and simply one of the greatest Baroque masterpieces in the world. Turning the corner and coming face to face with this masterpiece will surely be a memorable moment of your tour in Rome.
Designed by the Italian architect Nicola Salvi in 1732, the construction was completed in 1762 by another architect, Giovanni Pannini. The location of the monument marks the terminal of the “Acqua Virgine”, an old Roman aqueduct that supplies the fountain’s water since the 15th century.
The scene, sculptured against the backdrop of Palazzo Poli, depicts a mythological composition of Oceanus, divine personification of all water, flanked by two Tritons and two sea-horses.
This monumental fountain was the setting for a legendary scene in Fellini’s movie “La Dolce Vita”, where Anita Ekberg glides through the fountain’s water in a long black dress. Actually, walking in the fountain’s basin as the provocative actress did in the movie is prohibited, but you can always take part in the ritual coin toss, as the legend says that doing so it will assured you a return trip to the Eternal City.
A side-note: the euro coins that are retrieved go to the city, and all foreign coins go to charity.
Located in the centre of Piazza Navona, one of the liveliest squares of Rome, the Fountain of the Four Rivers, is a wonderful representation of Baroque art. It was completed in 1651 by Bernini, whose plan was to create a fountain that has to be admired walking around it, gradually discovering new details from different points of view.
Each of the four giant statues represents a major river of the then-known four continents: the Nile representing Africa, the Danube representing Europe, the Ganges representing Asia, and the Río de la Plata representing the Americas.
The church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, which stands right in front of the fountain, was designed by architect Borromini, who was the greatest rival of Bernini. Their rivalry was so brutal that Bernini sculptured the giant figures above the fountain as if they were showing disdain for the church: one of the statues shows fear for the imminent collapse of the building, while other statues seem to turn away from it in disgust.
Piazza Navona contains not just the Four Rivers, but also two other marvelous fountains:
On the Southern end of the square is the Fountain of the Moor (“Fontana del Moro” in Italian), also built on a project of Bernini.
The fountain depicts a creature with the facial features of a moor, but Bernini actually had a Triton in mind while designing the sculpture.
The muscular figure in the centre of the structure stands in a conch shell, struggling with a dolphin. The original statues were moved to Villa Borghese during a restoration in 1874, and replacement copies were made (those on the fountain today). The basin of the fountain is made of a beautiful rose marble.
The third fountain that embellishes Piazza Navona is the Fountain of Neptune (“Fontana del Nettuno” in Italian).
Located in the Northern end of the square, architect Giacomo della Porta designed its basin, which remained statue-less for 300 years; then, a competition was held in 1873 in order to balance the fountains on either end of the piazza. Antonio della Bitta created the sculpture of Neptune wrestling with an octopus, and later on, a few decorative tritons and sea deities were added around the scene.
Considered one of Rome’s more exquisite art works, the Fountain of Turtles (“Fontana delle Tartarughe” in Italian) was designed by Giacomo della Porta and sculpted by Taddeo Landini in the 16th century.
It was commissioned by the Mattei family, whose palace is right in front of the fountain: the legend is that the duke Mattei wished to marry the daughter of a wealthy man who lived in the square. To prove his worth to his future father-in-law, the duke ordered the fountain to be built overnight. The marriage was allowed, and the duke then had the window overlooking the fountain permanently closed so that no one could ever have the same view of the fountain as had his beloved. Be sure to look up and around the fountain to find the window overlooking the square that was filled with brick!
The four bronze boys each rest on a dolphin (which are spurting water into marble shells below) while leaning against the fountain and reaching up to support several bronze turtles drinking from the upper basin of the fountain.
Hard to picture? Best to grasp it in person! The clever and whimsical touch of the tortoises was added in the 17th century by Bernini.
Right up from the metro stop Repubblica, in the centre of the homonymous square and a large roundabout, is the Fountain of the Naiads. This is Rome's modern fountain, being commissioned by Pope Pius IX and built between 1870 and 1888.
It was designed by Alessandro Guerrieri, and around its circular basin are four nymphs, mythological female spirits who presided over the sources of earth's fresh-water. The figures depicted in the fountain are the Nymph of the Oceans (riding a horse), the Nymph of the Rivers (riding a water-monster), the Nymph of the Lakes (holding a swan), and the Nymph of the Underground Waters (seated on a dragon). In the centre is the fearless fisherman Glaucus (who was elevated to a sea-god) fighting a fish, symbolizing the power of the mankind over the hostile forces of nature.
These four shapely naked young females, soaked by the jets of water, caused a major controversy in more conservative circles that considered them to be too provocative. But despite the initial disputes, the city council finally decided that the figures would stay.
Considered one of Rome’s loveliest baroque masterpieces, the Fountain of Triton (“Fontana del Tritone” in Italian) was built in 1643 by Bernini. This represented the debut for the artist in a field in which he demonstrated great talent and originality.
Four giant fishes support with their tail an open clam, the throne on which sits a muscular Triton (mythological creature half-man and half-fish), holding a conch shell to his lips and blowing water through it.
Until the end of 700, in front of this fountain played a macabre spectacle: there were displayed the corpses of the unknown and an auctioneer called on the population to recognize the bodies.
Located in Piazza Barberini, the sculpture has been recently restored, and today it shines blinding white, with crystal water on the basin… A stop you cannot miss on your Rome’s fountains tour!
In the centre of Piazza della Rotonda, directly in front of the grand, magnificent temple of the Pantheon, stands the Fountain of the Pantheon (also known as “Fontana di Piazza della Rotonda”), designed by Giacomo della Porta and erected in 1578.
It was rearranged over the centuries: four dolphins were carved by sculptor Luigi Amici to decorate the basin, and in 1711 Pope Clement XI had placed a 6 meters Egyptian obelisk with a bronze star symbol of the Albani family on top of it.
Although not one of the most renowned among Rome’s fountains, this beautiful monument is filled with interesting details to discover and it represent a stop not be missed once in Rome.
Also known as “Il Fontanone”, which simply means “the big fountain”, this monumental fountain is located on a highest point on the Janiculum Hill, in front of a square from which one can admire breathtaking views of Rome and its domes.
The magnificent fountain was designed by the aptly-named architect Giovanni Fontana in 1610, and completed by his nephew, Carlo Fontana, that added the enormous white marble basin.
The imposing structure, which resembles an ancient Roman triumphal arch, boasts three wide alcoves and two minor ones alongside. It is fronted by six columns and façade beautifully decorated with high-reliefs of angels and demons.
Recently, the Fountain of Acqua Paola was immortalized for its appearance in the opening scene of "The Great Beauty" by Paolo Sorrentino, Golden Globes winner in 2014, and it can also be visited through a movie-location tour.
This little-known fountain is located in Piazza Mincio, in the heart of the Coppedè district, a lovely and architecturally bizarre urban area of Rome that most tourists miss.
The Fountain of the Frogs (“Fontana delle Rane” in Italian) is one of the most recent fountains in the city, as it was erected in 1924. Designed by Gino Coppedè, the same architect who designed the entire district (and from which it takes its name), the fountain was meant as a homage to Bernini’s works.
The structure consists of a large circular basin, with four couples of frogs, each of which supports a shell where other frogs sprout water into the basin.
But what makes this monument so unique is its special position: on the central part of a roundabout, surrounded by villas and palaces arranged asymmetrically and characterized by an unusual, rich architecture.
Sidenote: the fountain became world-wide famous after the Beatles plunged, fully dressed, into it after a concert held in the nearby Piper, a nightclub that used to be frequented by celebrities.