Rome’s Best and Boldest Fountains

Over the past decade, I’ve organised many small group tours that highlight Rome’s artistic gems. But while tourists always marvel at world-renowned attractions such as the Vatican and the Colosseum, they’re often most intrigued by the sophisticated creativity that the city’s many fountains radiate.

The fascination with Rome’s tributes to running water is not a modern phenomenon. In fact, sculptors and artists throughout history were often considered most accomplished if they landed the highly desirable task of designing and building an aquatic monument for the Eternal City.

Let me introduce you to some of the city’s most magnificent fountains, which count as absolute must-sees in my books.

Fontana di Trevi

Let’s start with a classic: the eighteenth-century Trevi Fountain, which was touched by the creative spirits of Nicola Salvi and Pietro Bracci. I haven’t come across a single first-time visitor who hasn’t wanted to see this Baroque attraction yet – especially if they plan to return to Rome.

It’s widely believed that throwing a coin into the water will guarantee that you’ll find your way back to the Eternal City. Our guides will also draw you into some of the more obscure – but equally fascinating – legends. Apparently, throwing two coins into the water will kindle a romance between you and a local… and after three coins, you might as well start planning your impending wedding!

Fontana della Barcaccia

While Rome’s fountains are widely celebrated for their intricate and lavish details, visitors who take part in our small group tours are always surprised to see that they’re not always beautiful. In the vicinity of the Spanish Steps, you’ll stumble upon the Fontana della Barcaccia, whose name translates to ‘Fountain of the Ugly Boat’. This boat-shaped monument is rather quirky, but is certain to intrigue you with its iconic stonework, which was designed by Pietro Bernini in 1623.

Along with serving as a memorable and eccentric contrast to Rome’s other famed attractions, we love enriching the viewing experience with fun facts about the Fontana della Barcaccia. Did you know, for instance, that the monument is meant to commemorate the city’s flooding in 1598? Legend has it that the Tiber’s waters rose so high that a boat managed to float all the way to the Piazza di Spagna. And that’s only the most fundamental level of symbolism that Bernini’s masterpiece represents – with the help of a knowledgeable guide, there’s so much more to discover.

Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi

The idiom “like father, like son” rings particularly true in the case of Pietro Bernini and his son, Gian Lorenzo. Stepping into the footsteps of his father, Gian Lorenzo became a sought-after sculptor, landing an important commission for a fountain in the Piazza Navona in 1651. But while his father’s Fontana della Barcaccia is exceptionally eccentric, Gian Lorenzo took his creative talent in a new direction.

Instead of opting for unusually strange, Bernini Junior went for unusually grand when he designed the Fountain of the Four Rivers. This monument depicts the rivers of the continents that were under papal rule at the time of construction: the Ganges in Asia, the Rio de la Plata in the Americas, the Nile in Africa and the Danube in Europe. If you’re participating in a small group tour, why not ask your guide to point out the meaning behind Bernini’s symbolic decorations?

And there you have it: three of Rome’s uniquely fabulous fountains. Although putting these sensational structures on your to-do list is essential, why not make their past and their symbolism come alive with the help of a small group tour?

Rose Magers is an Australian-born Italophile and the founder of ArtViva. With an international reputation for excellence and creativity, ArtViva are at the forefront of escorted day tours in Italy. Rose has indulged her own passion for history and the arts by designing a small group tour or experience for every taste, from guided visits to view the masterpieces of the great art galleries to unforgettable Italian cookery and art classes. 

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Author: Desiree Michels