Updated: Nov 15, 2021
One of the most fascinating and historic cities in the world, Rome is famous for its ancient architecture and monuments, particularly from the Baroque period. But no trip to Rome is complete without a visit to the Trevi Fountain – the largest fountain in the Eternal City and, quite possibly, one of the most beautiful examples of Baroque architecture in the world. The stunning fusion of gushing water and opulently carved stone attracts millions of visitors every year, making the Trevi Fountain Statues one of the most popular tourist attractions in Rome. So why is it so appealing? Maybe because it epitomizes the spirit of the Eternal City: history, art, romance, beauty and mythology. If you’re planning a visit, then here’s everything you need to know about the world’s most famous fountain.
WHAT IS THE TREVI FOUNTAIN?
Built against the backdrop of Palazzo Poli, the Trevi Fountain sits in all its magnificence, dominating the Piazza Trevi, in the Quirinale district in the heart of Rome. The narrow streets leading up to the square and the sheer size of the fountain – 85 feet high and 160 feet wide – make the setting seem almost incongruous for a monument of this magnitude. In fact, first-time visitors will be surprised at how small the square seems. Designed by Roman architect, Nicola Salvi in 1732, the construction of the fountain was completed after Salvi’s death by Pietro Bracci in 1762. The site as a water source however, originally dates back to 19 BC. It was the end point of the Acqua Virgo aqueduct, providing fresh, clean drinking water to the residents of Rome. Today, the fountain spills out approximately 80,000 cubic metres of water each day. However, the water is recycled and just for show, so don’t be tempted to drink it! Trevi fountain is a Travertine fountain – its facade and reef were indeed constructed using Travertine stone, a layered calcium carbonate formed by hot springs and quarried near Tivoli, 22 miles east of Rome. Travertine was also used to build the Colosseum. The statues are made of Carrara Marble.
Trevi Fountain Statues
Standing within a triumphal arch in the centre of the facade is not, as many mistakenly believe, Neptune, but Oceanus, the Titan God of the Earth-encircling River Oceanus, font of all the fresh water in the world. He is riding a shell-shaped chariot that is carried by two seahorses and led by two tritons. One horse is calm while the other is agitated. They are thought to symbolise the alternating characteristics of the rivers and seas. To the left of Oceanus is the goddess Abundance, another of the Trevi Fountain statues, carrying a horn of plenty. Above her is a statue of Agrippa, a Roman army general famous for his involvement during 45 BC–12 BC in the repairs and renovations of the aqueducts to Rome. Agrippa was responsible for building the Virgo Aqueduct with the intention of supplying water to the thermal baths in the city. To the right of Oceanus is the goddess Health, holding a cup that a snake is drinking from. Above her is a statue of a virgin maiden, indicating to soldiers a source of fresh water. The Virgo Aqueduct takes its name from the legend of a young virgin girl who led tired and thirsty Roman soldiers to a source of fresh water, 14 miles outside of the city. The urn found on the right-hand edge is thought to have been incorporated into Salvi’s original design to block the view of an ugly barber’s shop nearby and prevent it from ruining the look of the fountain. The four statues at the top of Palazzo Poli represent the fertile earth and the bountiful gifts that rainfall provides: fruits, crops, autumn harvest and flowers. The palace is crowned with the coat of arms of Pope Clemens XII who commissioned the fountain to be built. The fountain also features several types of plants including figs, grapes, ivy, cactus, artichokes and an oak stump.
History of the Trevi Fountain
The fountain itself is the result of a lottery game. Using the money from the Roman lottery for the build, Pope Clemens XII held a competition to design a new fountain in the heart of the city. It’s believed that the actual winner was Alessandro Galilei, an architect and mathematician from the famous Galileo family. However, the fiercely territorial Romans objected, as Galilei came from Florence, so Nicola Salvi, a native Roman, was chosen instead. It took over 30 years to construct. Salvi died in 1751, before the work was completed. In 1762, Pietro Bracci created the Oceanus statue that was set in the central arch. The fountain was inaugurated and officially opened by Pope Clemens XIII on 22 May 1762. In 2015, Italian fashion house, Fendi, sponsored a complete restoration of the fountain including the installation of over 100 LED lights to illuminate it at night.
Throwing a Coin in the Trevi Fountain
Tossing a coin in the Trevi Fountain is a ritual performed by almost every visitor. Many associate the tradition with the film Three Coins In The Fountain: the story of three American women searching for love and romance in the Eternal City. One coin ensures a speedy return to Rome, the second, romance, and the third, marriage. There is also a method to the ritual. You should stand with your back to the fountain and toss the coin from your right hand over your left shoulder. However, the coin-throwing ritual is thought to have started long before the 1954 film. The original legend goes back as far as Ancient Rome. It was claimed that tossing a coin, then drinking a cup of water from the fountain would ensure good fortune and a fast return to the Eternal City. Whether you believe in the legend or not, by taking time to toss a few coins into the Trevi Fountain when you visit it, you’ll be helping the needy. Every evening the municipality of Rome collects the coins from the fountain to ensure they’re not stolen. It’s illegal to steal the coins from the water. The money is used to fund a caritas supermarket and social programme to help the needy in Rome. Around €3,000 are collected each day!
The Water of the Trevi Fountain
In the past it was believed that the water gushing from the travertine fountain had mystical properties. It was claimed that a maiden should lead her sweetheart to the fountain and give him a cup of water to drink, then smash the cup to ensure his safe return to Rome and his devoted love forever. Another tradition involved newly weds drinking from the small fountain to the right of the Trevi fountain. Once they drank the water from a cup, they would smash the cup to prevent anyone else drinking from it, ensuring fidelity throughout their marriage.
THE DOLCE VITA
The Trevi Fountain is the setting for the most famous scene from Franco Fellini’s film La Dolce Vita. The unforgettable moment when Anita Ekberg dances fully clothed in the fountain while beckoning for Marcello Mastroianni to join her is a classic. After Mastroianni’s death in 1996, the fountain was turned off and draped in a black cloth to honour him.
After donating $4 million for the restoration of the fountain in 2015, the world famous Italian fashion house, Fendi, marked the label’s 90th anniversary by staging a spectacular fashion show in Piazza Trevi. Dressed in Karl Lagerfeld’s ‘Legends and Fairy Tales’ collection, models walked across a specially constructed glass runway that was laid across the pool to simulate wading in the water.
HOW TO GET TO THE TREVI FOUNTAIN
The Trevi Fountain is situated in the heart of the city, at the meeting point of three ancient streets: Via de Crocicchis, Via Poli and Via delle Muratte. Legend claims that the three-headed Roman goddess, Trivia, protects the streets of Rome from her position at the fountain. The ancient streets are too narrow for buses to pass. However there is a bus stop at Via del Tritone, which is only 100 yards away. The nearest metro stops are Spagana and Barberini. You can get a bus or the metro from Rome’s main railway station, Termini. If you’re feeling energetic however, Termini to the fountain is only a twenty-minute walk. You can take your time, explore the winding streets and stop off for a cappuccino or an aperitif on the way!
Bus and train tickets are available to buy from multi-lingual vending machines at Termini, tobacconist shops and bars displaying the ‘M’ sign. The tickets are valid for both public transport buses and the metro and they need to be bought before boarding. A single journey ticket costs €1.50 and is valid for 100 minutes after being stamped. A day pass costs €6 and is valid for 24 hours. A 48-hour ticket costs €16.50. However, if you’re intending to stay in Rome for a few days, a €24 seven-day pass may be more cost effective. Alternatively, you can buy a Roma Pass for €36. It’s valid for 3 days and includes unlimited bus and metro travel plus free access to two museums in the city. Children under the age of 10 travel free.
Tickets need to be validated with a date and time stamp from the yellow ticket machines found on board the buses. At the metro stations, the ticket barriers at the entrance and exits also serve as ticket validators. Spring and summer temperatures in Rome can get extremely high. It’s not unusual to reach 40 degrees in July. Although it’s very tempting to cool off in the fountain, be aware that it’s strictly forbidden. Whistle-blowing municipal police guard the fountain and anyone attempting to take a dip will incur a €500 fine. Italians are fiercely protective of their precious monuments, and rightly so. Unfortunately, recent incidents in the last couple of years have led to the defacement and vandalism of some of Rome’s most beautiful fountains and monuments. The Trevi Fountain is free of charge to visit, but regulations regarding behaviour towards the fountain should be respected. If you need to cool down or would like to re-fill your water bottle, there are dedicated fontanelle (little fountains) known as ‘nasone’ (big noses) all over the city that provide pure, fresh mineral water to drink.
Be warned: it gets crowded around the Trevi Fountain. If you’re hoping to get some good photos without tourists’ heads getting in the way, then the best advice is to have a good zoom feature on your camera or phone and stand further back. Being tall will also come in handy! Most importantly, be patient. Take your time and wait for the right moment to savour your visit. There’s a great ‘gelateria’ nearby, so grab yourself an ice cream and soak up the atmosphere. If you really want to avoid the crowds then the best times to visit the fountain are early morning or late evening. The fountain is illuminated at night, making it even more impressive and the perfect backdrop for some romantic photos!
OTHER WORTH VISITING ROME FOUNTAINS
Rome is the city of water and there are famous and non-famous fountains everywhere
Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi
Also recently restored by Fendi, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiume, located in Piazza Navona, was built by one of Rome’s most famous architects and the creator of Baroque style sculpture, Gian Lorenzo Bernini between 1648 and 1651. The fountain represents four of the world’s most famous rivers: The Nile, Rio de la Plata, Danube and Ganges.
Another of Barberini’s creations is located in Piazza Barberini. The Triton Fountain features a merman kneeling on a shell led by four dolphins and blowing into a conch shell to control the behaviour of the sea.
Built in 1612 by the aptly named Giovanni Fontana, Fontana dell’Acqua Paola is better known as Il Fontanone (the big fountain). It originally featured five streams of water that flowed into five separate pools, however, it was changed to one main pool in 1690 based on a design that Gian Lorenzo Barberini had originally intended to use in the later-built Trevi Fountain. Il Fontanone is located on Janiculum Hill, one of the best spots in Rome to get a scenic view of the city.