Jul 27, 2009

The fountains of Rome

One of the great things about Rome is its magnificent fountains, and they are everywhere. There are 280 fountains in Rome, and that's not counting the nasoni, the 2500 funny looking drinking fountains scattered across the city. Water, water, water everywhere. Rome's water system was one of the wonders of the world, and it still is. From the famous Trevi Fountain to the nasoni, water flows constantly, pure, fresh, and in most cases, drinkable.
Nasone drinking fountain
The fountain basins are clean and free of debris and the water sparkles through to the bottom. It comes from deep springs and is as cool and pure as mineral water. It still amazes me to find, all of a sudden, a nasone around a corner with continuously running water where I can put my palm to its spout and drink the spilling arched jet pushed through the small hole in the top, or at which I can fill my bottle and drink it on the go. Always cold and filtered, mineral-rich and delicious.

Whenever I stroll down the cobblestoned streets of the Eternal City and come upon its fontane, I always wonder, how have all these majestic fountains been working over time without a motor to pump the water? Looking back to my art history notes with Mr. Ceen, my favorite high school teacher, I am reminded how ancient Rome received (and still does) its water––about 38 million gallons a day––through a mighty system of aqueducts.
Fontana di Piazza del Popolo, designed by Valadier in 1816-20

All water flowed to the city by gravity, but because it was arriving from several surrounding hills, it could be stored in a network of large cisterns very similar in concept to today's water towers (the main difference is that cisterns are filled from the top). Water flowed from the cisterns either through pipes to individual homes or to public distribution points.

Fontane served both decorative and functional purposes, since people could bring their anforas (and later in history, their demijohns) to the fountain to collect water. The cisterns provided the height needed to generate water pressure for the fountains to spray the way they still do to this day. Some fountains were the actual city "end" of a certain acqueduct, like for example those of the Acqua Virgo, Acqua Marcia or Acqua Felix sources.

Pliny the Elder once wrote: "If anyone will consider the abundance of Rome's public supply of water, for baths, cisterns, ditches, houses, gardens, villas; and take into account the distance over which it travels, the arches reared, the mountains pierced, the valleys spanned - one will admit that there never was anything more marvelous in the whole world."

I can't list all 280 here, but a few I must mention, and they are:

Fontana di Santa Maria in Trastevere (4-8th century) one of the oldest in Rome

Fontana dei Libri (fountain of the books), located on via Staderari, between Piazza della Rotonda (where the Pantheon sits) and Piazza Navona on the side of the Chiesa di Sant'Eustacchio

Fontana delle Tartarughe (Tortoise Fountain)
built by Taddeo Landini and Giacomo della Porta, located in Piazza Mattei

Fontana della Barcaccia (the leaking boat)
by P. Bernini, father of GianLorenzo Bernini, located at the foot of the Spanish Steps

Fontana del Tritone (1642-43)
by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, located in Piazza Barberini

Fontana delle Naiadi (nymphs) (1900)

very controversial at the time because of the cavorting and bodacious naked nymphs. This fountain is located in Piazza della Repubblica, not far from Termini train station

Fontana degli Artisti (fountain of the artists),
Via Margutta - where all the prettiest art galleries are

Fontana di Nettuno (Neptune) (1574),
built by Giacomo della Porta and located at the northern end of Piazza Navona

Fontana dei Fiumi (fountain of the rivers) (1648-51)
by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the centerpiece in Piazza Navona. It portrays the 4 major rivers and part of an endless dispute with Borromini who built the church facing it

Fontana di Piazza Farnese (1626)
by Girolamo Rainaldi, located in Piazza Farnese. There are 2 giant fountains in this piazza of the Palazzo Farnese - which is now the French Embassy - each donning the fleur de lys

Fountain of St. Peter's Square
stands in the breathtaking piazza facing the Basilica. It is part of a matched pair, one by Maderno (1614) and the other, on the northern side of the embracing square is by Bernini and added later

Fontana del Mosè (Moses fountain) (1587)
commemorates the opening of the Acqua Felice aqueduct. Also known Fontana dell'Acqua Felice, built during the reign of Pope Sixtus V

Fontana di Piazza delle Cinque Scole
built by Giacomo della Porta. The fountain and piazza are named after the five rabbinical schools located in the old Roman Jewish Quarter

Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain) (1732-62) 

by Nicola Salvi and completed by Giuseppe Parini, commemorates the completion of the Acqua Vergine acqueduct begun in 19BC. This is the world-famous fountain where legend has it, if you toss coins over your shoulder into its waters, you are sure to return to Rome one day. It is built on the rear end of Palazzo Poli. The basin was built with the cash collected from taxes levied on wine!

Fontana del Pantheon (1575)
designed by Giacomo della Porta and located in front of the most gorgeous, still standing, entirely roofed Roman temple

Le Quattro Fontane, ([one of] the four fountains) (1593),
located at the Quirinale crossroads

Acqua Paola (more often referred to as Fontanone, or Fontana di Ponte Sisto

after the bridge near where it is located above Piazza Trilussa in Trastevere

Fontana delle Api (fountain of the bees) (1641)
by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in Via Veneto. It portrays the Borghese family emblem of the 3 bees on an open clam valve.

My favorite fountain is in the Villa Borghese gardens. It is nestled in a secluded area and it has a twin on the opposite side of the park. It bubbles quietly in the shady calm of its hiding place. The fountain area is entirely surrounded by a marble wall, an oval bench that runs around the fountain. It is a pleasant place to read, relax, meditate. A flute player often comes here to practice. I used to come here to nurse MrE during his first weeks of life.

The light here is beautiful. And the sound of the rippling rivulets cascading from the gurgling top to the basin make listening a zen experience. Every Sunday I take my son there. It has become somewhat of a tradition. We explore the park, play soccer with a pinecone, crack open pine nuts with a stone, picking out its precious bounty eating them meticulously, and then we sit at the oval fountain in silence for a few minutes. Mr E hurls pebbles in the basin, while I watch him, smiling.


  1. What a fascinating and overflowing description of fountains! Btw, you made my day with the "bodacious" nymphs...now that's a great word I haven't heard in a long time!

  2. loved the tender moment with MrE there at the end. think that soulds like a wonderful tradition. thanks for taking us on the walk around the fountains. i like the variety of inspirations that went into each of them. and i think it would be pretty cool to have a few nasoni around here. hope you have a great week.

  3. Great post! I'm amazing by how many fountains there are here. I feel like I "discover" a new one constantly.

    That fountain in Borghese Park is one of my favorites as well.

  4. Hi Lola

    thanks for taking us on the fountain walk...
    Your special fountain does look to be the most refreshing setting...

    The ancient Romans really knew their aquaducts...there are water cisterns at the top of Masada at the Dead Sea which collect the waters drained from the desert...

    Happy days

  5. Aah, so refreshing and informative...and beautiful! There is a scarcity of fountains where I live but an abundance of pine trees. I wish our pinecones held sweet secret edible nuts within.

  6. Magnificent Lola!

    best wishes
    and thank you for sharing... I too love fountains.
    Water is joy.

    x Ribbon

  7. Yowza...I wish I had the franchise for building water works. So much beauty in one city.

    The Villa Borghese gardens were also my favorite. You could step out of the noisy, bustling city into quiet, verdant splendor. Sigh. Wish I were there.

    When my ship comes in, Lola, you will find me under your window singing..."Come out and play, amica mia."

  8. I'm with Pyzahn, singing under your window, begging to go out on the town with your expertise. You've shown why all roads lead to Rome. Lovely.

  9. Very lovely. There's nothing quite so relaxing, in a city, as spending a bit of your day sitting by a fountain, listening to the water and watching the world pass by.

  10. I hope to see some of these in person one day. The stories they could tell, the history they have been through. I bet you can feel it.

  11. Oh, go on, list all 280!

    Here in Oregon, USA, you have to buy something if you want to use the bathroom or take a drink of water. This would seem to represent my society in an unfavorable light.

  12. Another block buster Lola - wonderful detail and precision in the commentary - I am a great fan of not only your writing but you as well as a lovely person. My daughter and her fiancee is in Italy right now but in Venice - lots of water there as well of course (too much some would say) ~ thanks for your comment earlier on ~ Eddie

  13. So beautiful!!

    I love flowing water...theres something so soothing about it...

    Sending you love across the waves,


  14. Thank you for uploading so many beautiful images of fountains and water - something I can in reality sit and stare at for hours. We had a fountain in our garden for a little while but the bichons kept pulling at the wire leading to the pump and we felt there could be a potential accident.Now it's just a receptacle for plants but I do miss watching the water

    Hope you do not have post-holiday blues.

  15. Oh Lola, somehow I have missed your return date, and in just checking after your sweet comment, I found this BEAUTIFUL post! How lovely, each fountain. You mentioned the "several" hills of Rome, but I remember that my daughter learned them by heart, once. Seven! Seven hills of Rome. Must ask her again. I bet she still knows them. And now, TELL ME about your trip!

  16. Lola, You are wonderful!! Fountains Fountains everywhere! This is a natural wonder to me to have such a water system like this, since many moons ago. Leave it up to the Italians! You do it so well in showing us these beauties..
    Thanks so much :)

  17. Fabulous-thank you so much for sharing the great photos. I'm surprised by how many of those I've actually seen. Can't wait to find the rest of them.

  18. Do you KNOW how much I've missed you and your wonderful, fascinating, thought-provoking, always beautiful and mouth-watering blog posts, Madame LALALALALALOLA!? Well, I have. And hooray, I'm so pleased you are back in your lovely Roma with its fountains of unsurpassed gorgeousness, its delectable food and awe-inspiring art and its enormous vitality and joie de vivre.
    Bidets are extremely useful, I find, not only for washing bottoms... One can wash one's lingerie and one's dishes and even one's feet in those accommodating porcelain bowls, don't you find? In Paris once, my sister and I had a miniscule room with an equally tiny loo and a sweet little bidet. Since there was no bathroom or shower in the entire pension, we used said bidet for most everything.

    I will dream of chocolate tonight, and fountains too. But will probably leave out bidets and aeroplane food. Thank you, sweet Lola, for these lovely posts – each one a glowing gem.

  19. I am completely breathless after this lovely watery tour around the fountains! I've seen quite a few of them, but many years ago. I love the thought of you sitting together at the oval fountain! x

  20. AMAZING pictures! Thanks for handing out a bit of Italy....

  21. Incredibly cool amazing pictures you'd taken. Captured the heart and soul of the moment, my dear.


  22. Wow. I don't know what's more amazing...
    all of the fountains, or the amount of energy you put into your posts. C'est fantastique

  23. How beautiful dear Lola.

    I never ever see fountains anywhere and these were a wonderful treat.

    Love Renee xoxo

  24. Really?? you can even drink out of that top one?? my gosh.

    I LOVE the fountain tour, and i could have easily seen all 200 plus, they are incredible. could you please toss a coin in the one that says you'll return to rome? only when you do it, ask for me to come my first time.

    I can picture the last one and the light and sounds and the beautiful mother and son.

    Thank you so much for sharing all this Lola. xoxoxoxoxo

  25. I loved this post, Lola. I've been a little more haphazard than usual in my blog reading, so I missed it when you first posted, and I'm glad NYC Caribbean Ragazza pointed me back to it.

    The Libri fountain is amazing - what an unusual design!

  26. I love the nasone and how you can make it squirt out of the hole to drink from it. I always show visitors how to do this. Unfortunately, my uncle did this at the Trevi where the pressure is very high...and wet a guy's pants!!

  27. Came via nyc/caribbean ragazza... Beautiful!

  28. Oh, the last one's my favorite, too, and the special times with Mr E only make it even better. Thanks for all these lovely photos, dear.