Rome’s Legendary Fountains: Trevi Fountain

Why do fountains resonate so deeply with us? Perhaps the reason is that we are made almost entirely of the same water that rushes out and over the fountain structures that are limited only by the imagination of their creators. One of the most famous fountains in Rome and perhaps the world is Fontana di Trevi, or Trevi Fountain. The rumor is that Roman engineers initially found the fountain’s source of pure water about 8 miles from Rome with the help of  a virgin. It seems unlikely that her virginity would have been any real help in locating the water. Perhaps the young lady’s habit of taking strolls 8 miles into the countryside around Rome contributed to her poor love life. Either way, the virgin was unable to make water run uphill and the Roman builders were forced to build 14 miles of aqueduct before water began flowing into the Baths of Agrippa.

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Trevi Fountain

After serving the Romans for more than 400 years the aqueduct lay in ruins. 1000 years passed before Pope Nicholas V finished restoring the aqueduct to working condition and installed a basin to catch the water that had travelled so far. Another 200 years passed before yet another Pope, Urban VIII, decided that the simple basin of Pope Nicholas V was unimpressive and needed remodeling. Without consulting any virgins, The Pope hired Gian Lorenzo Bernini and had the fountain moved across the city square. The basin did not become Trevi Fountain until 1730, when Pope Clement XII awarded Nicola Salvi a commission to build the fountain we know so well today.

The Fountain:

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Largest Baroque fountain in Rome

Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome with a width of 65 feet and height of more than 85 feet. Originally designed as a gravity-fed fountain, the pool of Trevi Fountain is nearly a full floor below street level. During remodeling efforts completed in 1998, Trevi Fountain was outfitted with recirculating pumps and given a thorough cleaning. Water flows from an opening beneath Oceanus’ right foot and rushes down three progressively larger crescent shelves before dropping into the main pool. Natural-looking outcroppings of stone direct smaller rivulets around the Tritons as they hold the wild flying horses (Hippocamps) that typically pull Oceanus’ chariot. In this setting, they seem more intent on rushing about the streets of Rome than in pulling a chariot. Visitors need not worry about the flying horses getting loose, though. If they were somehow able to move their stone legs, Pietro Bracci’s massive depiction of Oceanus would certainly keep them at bay.

The Sculptures:

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Oceanus

As you face Trevi Fountain, you’ll note that the waterfall flanked at its upper parts by Hippocamps and Tritons create a sort of symmetry that holds Oceanus at its peak while making him seem even more massive. In stone recesses on either side, female  figures expand the story. To the left, Abundance carries a cornucopia while water spills from her overturned jar. To the right, Salubrity holds a javelin in one hand while a snake drinks from the bowl clutched in the other. Above Oceanus a half-dome rests on four pillars carved into the building. On either side of the dome, bas reliefs depict the Virgin’s discovery of the water source to the right and Romans planning construction of the aqueduct to the left. It may be helpful to note that atop each of the four main pillars that create the vertical lines of the fountain’s structure stand four female figures. Each figure holds a fruit, flower, or other object and sports a robe in a distinct stage of revelatory disarray.

The Building:

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Trevi fountain at night

A large portion of Pallazzo Poli was demolished to make room for what would become Trevi Fountain. One wall of the remaining structure is taken up by the pillars and sculptures of Trevi Fountain while the three remaining walls contain a premier collection of copper engravings from the 16th century to modern day. If you get a kick out of scratched copper plates, you’ll love the collection housed in Pallazzo Poli. If not, your best bet is to spend your time in the square.

The Legends:

Aside from the bit about virgin sheepherders running about in the forests to find water for Roman engineers, Trevi Fountain is most legendary for taking coins. The legend promises visitors who throw money into the fountain that they will one day return to throw more money into the fountain. The legend has expanded with current rates of inflation to its current form of a three coin system. One coin gets you back to Rome to throw more money into the fountain. The second coin will bring new romance into your life. The third coin secures a promise that your new romance will either result in marriage or in divorce. Throwing all three coins together with one’s right hand over one’s left shoulder seals the deal. It’s like having your wish notarized. It makes sense that a fountain fed for thousands of years with water found by a shepherd with a rotten love life would promise romantic drama for modern visitors. Nearly 3,000 Euros thrown into the fountain each day stand as a testament to visitor’s hope for good luck. Fortunately, the money is removed from the fountain each night and goes to local charities.

The Media:

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One of the most famous movie scenes featuring Trevi Fountain takes place in Federico Fellini’s “La dolce vita” and is well-worth the few moments it takes to view the scene.

The beauty and rich history of Trevi Fountain have made it a magnet for tourists and media types alike. This short amateur film offers a wonderful nighttime view of the fountain with details of the lights and flowing water.

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Italian Composer Respighi wrote “La fontana di Trevi al meriggio” or “Trevi Fountain at Noon” as one piece in a four-part classical composition dedicated to four fountains during different parts of the day. Rocker Jon Bon Jovi filmed the music video to “Thank You For Loving Me” at Trevi Fountain.

“Coins in The Fountain”, a story about three young single women working at the nearby embassy and their search for love.

“The Lizzy McGuire Movie”,  in which Hillary Duff plays the lead role of a teenage girl on a school trip to Rome.
The 2003 blockbuster “Under The Tuscan Sun” featuring Diane Lane in the lead as a newly-divorced woman seeking a new life in Tuscany.

If you are ever lucky enough to visit Rome and have time to while away a few moments in the cool spray of Trevi Fountain, perhaps you’ll throw a coin into the legendary waters. When you return home, if you listen carefully, you may hear the fountain calling you. Just as Sylvia calls Marcello in La Dolce Vita, “Come quickly!”

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