Basic facts about the Trevi fountain
The most impressive Baroque fountain in the world, the Trevi fountain (Fontana di Trevi) is a public fountain located in the 2nd rione of Rome, in the city’s northern part. It is 26.3 metres (86 ft) high and 49.15 metres (161.3 ft) wide, forming a single architectural whole with the earlier Poli Palace. For comparison, the entire monument is taller than the White House in Washington D.C. (70 feet high and 152 feet wide with porticos). The present structure, chiefly designed by Nicola Salvi and later on by Giuseppe Pannini was completed in 1762. Daily water use by the entire fountain is 2,824,800 cubic feet (21,130,971 gallons). Need help visualizing this amount of water? Just imagine 32 Olympic size swimming pools being filled. Every day! Since 1762! There are 24 water spouts total. There are 30 different sculpted plants included in the fountain’s composition. The popular custom of throwing coins into the fountain results in approximately 8,000 Euros a day (give or take). This money is collected by Caritas Roma, a Catholic charity which provides soup kitchens and even a supermarket for the city’s poor.
Why should you visit the Trevi Fountain?
It is safe to assume that most people come to Rome on cultural pilgrimages, hoping to see works of art and architectural masterpieces. The Trevi Fountain easily fulfills these requirements. And the visit can be quick! The fountain should be on everybody’s checklist, even if you are in the Eternal City for just a day or two. Best of all, it is free. It’s a public fountain in municipal ownership. On a typical Roman day, fresh water is a welcome sight and the surrounding buildings create enough shade. And If you want to dive deep into Rome’s history (no pun intended, diving in the fountain is strictly forbidden) the Trevi Fountain offers a vivid connection as far back as the glorious days of Imperial Rome. The statues near the water can be used to illustrate a few chapters in a solid volume dedicated to Graeco-Roman mythology. Finally, the art style of the monument is the celebrated Italian Barocco, one of the country’s best contributions to world culture.
How to get here?
If you want to use public transportation the nearest subway stop to the Trevi Fountain is Piazza Barberini. From there you walk along Via del Tritone in the direction of Via del Corso (essentially, towards the river). At the intersection with Via del Panetteria (there is a McDonald’s on the other side), take a left turn, bear a little to the right and you will come across Via della Stamperia (there is a sign on Via del Tritone). It will take you directly to the fountain.
How to best enjoy your visit?
As all iconic locations in Rome, the fountain attracts thousands of tourists. Unless you are visiting during the off-season or at odd hours, be prepared to deal with the huge crowds. The fountain is located in a public square and can be entered from one of the surrounding streets, but if you are in any way claustrophobic, consider using the fountain’s webcam to decide for yourself if the Trevi Fountain visit is right for you. If you or somebody traveling with you requires a wheelchair, keep in mind that the very edge of the fountain can only be accessed on foot, however there are many excellent vantage points to take in the beauty. Be advised that there are no places to sit around the fountain, so if you cannot stand for an extended period of time that can be an issue. The police are constantly telling people not to sit on the edge of the fountain, so you don’t want to be doing that.
Via della Stamperia, coming from the north, is probably the least crowded way to enter the square where the fountain is located (this is the street you will most likely take if you arrive by subway). It brings you to the north-east corner of the monument and you can walk around it in a counter-clock manner or escape the square after seeing the fountain by staying on Via della Stamperia if it just gets too crowded for your taste. Otherwise, try to get to the water, especially on a hot day. Try to identify the sculptures and other features discussed later on and be sure to share the knowledge with your companions! The fountain is especially spectacular at night. It’s almost a different place altogether, so evening can be the best time to visit the Trevi fountain.
Public bathrooms in Rome are at a premium. While you can have a drink of water and fill an empty bottle near the fountain (but not directly from it, use the drinking fountain underneath the large vase on the right side of the monument) the nearest convenient public restroom (bagno pubblico) is inside a shopping mall a few blocks away (Galleria Alberto Sordi). Your best bet may be to find a local establishment that has a restroom reserved for its patrons and quickly become a customer.
There is a pharmacy located right in the Trevi square, for any urgent needs. Police are also present at all times.
In the classic Italian comedy Tototruffa 62, the main character played by Antonio Peluffo tries to sell the fountain to an gullible tourist, touting it as a great business asset, very easy to operate: “turn of the tap, collect the coins, turn the tap back on.” Let this be a warning to you. Beware of cons (and pickpocketing). Don’t buy the fountain (unless the city of Rome indeed puts it up for sale). Also, don’t buy any “tickets,” because visiting the Trevi Fountain is free. But most importantly, don’t plan on visiting the fountain between 8 and 9 in the morning on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, because this is when they “turn off the tap” and collect the money.
Tips on taking photos at the Trevi Fountain
If you have a DSLR camera, bring a wide lens along. Or use a wide lens option on your phone if it’s available. The square is pretty small and you will want to get the entire monument in the frame. Do not delay the visit if the day seems cloudy. Overcast skies are great for taking pictures of sculptures, while bright Italian sun creates unseemly shadows. However, sunny days are fantastic for taking pictures of water features. Also, come at night to see the fountain illuminated.
Throwing coins into the Trevi Fountain
This is by far the most famous superstition in Rome: throw some coins into the Trevi Fountain to ensure that you will return to Rome. There are some nuances and rules associated with this custom, but as long as you are certain that you indeed want to come back to Rome, you are already on the path to success.
What happens to the money tossed in the fountain?
You really don’t know Italians well enough if you are surprised by the fact that the money recovered from the fountain is used for charity. The arrangement is that foreign coins are donated to the Red Cross of Italy which does a lot of charitable work internationally. The euros go to the Catholic organization called Caritas Roma. It has been approximated that fountain money constitutes about 15% of the charity’s budget which is typically spent on supporting soup kitchens and otherwise feeding the hungry.
Hotels near Trevi Fountain
There are many hotels in the area, but you might be interested in getting a room with a view of this main attraction. That is entirely possible. The nearest hotel is appropriately called Hotel Fontana. Provided that you get the right room, you can be overlooking the square. Wouldn’t you just love to take a photo of a glass filled with white wine, as the lights of the fountain shine through it? This three-star hotel claims to be the only one directly near the Trevi Fountain. This may be true, however, Relais Fontana di Trevi is only yards away and the view is just as spectacular and perhaps more panoramic.
There are many restaurants, both in the Trevi square and the surrounding streets. Eating out is rarely cheap, but the restaurants in this busy place tend to be successful when serving numerous customers, instead of catering to a few rich individuals. Also, gelato is a huge business in Italy and you have a choice of several gelato places on this very spot. Most places have WiFi. There are many restaurants, both in the Trevi square and the surrounding streets. Eating out is rarely cheap, but the restaurants in this busy place tend to be successful when serving numerous customers, instead of catering to a few rich individuals. Also, gelato is a huge business in Italy and you have a choice of several gelato places on this very spot. Most places have WiFi. You can also consider visiting Caffè Greco, the oldest cafe in Italy which is located nearby at this address: Via dei Condotti, 86.
Other fountains in Rome
The Trevi Fountain is not the only fountain in Rome, of course. The city has over 2,000 fountains total and around 50 monumental ones. If the miracle in Trevi Square was not enough to satisfy your thirst, you should definitely consider these historic fountains:
- The two fountains of St. Peter’s Square, by Carlo Maderno (1614) and Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1677)
- The Triton Fountain in the Piazza Barberini (1642), by Gian Lorenzo Bernini
- The three fountains in Piazza Navona.
History of the Trevi fountain
Ancient Romans are known for their utmost concern with sanitation. It took dedicated measures and state-of-the-art engineering to provide the growing population of Rome with clean water. Eleven major aqueducts were built over time. One of them, Aqua Virgo (Virgin Water), had a terminus in the area where the Trevi Fountain is located. Aqua Virgo is one of the oldest water supply routes to Rome and perhaps the only one that has been in operation continuously since the early days of the Empire. The construction of the aqueduct was finished in 19 B.C. This project was carried out under the supervision of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, a close friend and son-in-law to Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (mostly known as Augustus, the first Emperor). Aqua Virgo faithfully provided Romans with water for four hundred years, but it fell into disrepair after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.
The aqueduct was rebuilt during the Renaissance. In 1453, a fountain was built at the aqueduct’s terminus (final point) by Leon Battista Alberti, the consummate Renaissance man. Jacopo della Porta was the next architect to tackle this project, as he was commissioned by Pope Pius IV. He designed a new fountain which was finally placed in the same square where the Trevi Fountain stands now, just in a slightly different location. However it apparently lacked grandeur. Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 – 1680), already well known for his sculptures, was asked by his patron, Pope Urban VIII, to come up with a suitable design.
Bernini’s plan was never fully followed, but certain elements of it were utilized by Nicola Salvi(1697 – 1751). Salvi initially received an education in mathematics and philosophy. His early contributions to architecture were modest (confined to decorative and temporary structures). In 1730, Pope Clement XII held a contest among architects who wished to win the commission for a complete rebuilding of the Trevi Fountain. Salvi got this commission, beating Ferdinando Fuga, Luigi Vanvitelli and others. He did not live long enough, however, to see the fountain finished. The work was completed in 1762 by Pietro Bracci and Giuseppe Pannini.
How did the Trevi Fountain get its name?
The origin of the name Trevi is not completely certain. The main theory is that the name refers to trivio (or “treio” in a more vulgar pronunciation), the intersection of three streets or roads. Another version is that the square and the fountain received their name from the Trebium area which in the Middle ages became the originating point of the water coming to Rome through the old Aqua Virgo aqueduct. It is also notable that Trivia in Roman mythology was the earliest epithet applied to Diana, the goddess of hunting, the countryside and crossroads.Diana is also a virgin goddess, therefore she can be linked to the legend, explaining the origin of the water source connected to the Trevi fountain by way of the Aqua Virgo aqueduct.
The Art of the Trevi Fountain
Architectural features and statues
The center of the fountain’s composition is the sculpture of Oceanus, the god of all water (sometimes identified as Neptune). His figure is placed under an imposing triumphal arch, in a niche built into the Poli Palace. Oceanus confidently holds the reins of his shell chariot. He is flanked by two minor goddesses of the Roman pantheon: Abundantia (Abundance) and Hygieia (Salubrity). Abundantia is pouring out water from a vase (a cornucopia, rather), while Hygieia is holding a cup out of which a snake is drinking. Below these three figures, there are two Tritons, on either side of the cascading waterfall gushing from underneath Oceanus’ chariot. These minor river deities accompany the horses governed by the father of all water. One of the horses is wild, the other is tamed. The water pours into a large bassin in the back of which there are two grottos. The visual impact is strengthened by expansive rock formations, adorned with sparse asymmetrical ornamented plants, springing up in the presence of water.
Symbolism of the Trevi Fountain
The intended message of the Trevi Fountain is simple. It was meant to show off the might of Roman authorities (and, at the time of construction, the papacy), capable of providing excellent water sufficient for the needs of the great city. Such a feat required the appearance of a mythological figure whose reign over water resources was paramount—Oceanus. In the Graeco-Roman mythology, Oceanus was believed to be the source of all rivers, streams and oceans, combining both fresh and salt water. The triumphal arch through which Oceanus makes his grand entrance is reminiscent of the ancient custom of rewarding generals for military victories by allowing them to march through the streets of Rome, displaying their war trophies. The homage given to the triumphing commander always implied that authorities of the Roman state were greater yet in their ability to provide peace and prosperity to the Empire.
The Roman goddess Abundantia was often associated with Annona, the goddess of harvest. The cornucopia was typically used to pour out grain and as such came to represent the Emperor’s generosity. The image of Abundantia can be found on ancient coins, however there were no altars or temples built to honor her.
Hygieia (also known in Rome as Salus) as the personification of health, is often depicted with a snake. Hygieia’s bowl is an ancient symbol of medicine, an attribute closely connected to Asclepius, the patron god of healers. The snake is present, because venom has medicinal properties.
Triton is a Greek god of the sea, however during classical antiquity the word came to denote a merman. As such, tritons are a common figure in fountain statuary. The two horses, one tamed and the other wild, add dynamics to the composition.
To summarize, the monument shows a grand entry of Oceanus into Rome, at behest of the city’s authorities, able to provide their fellow citizens with water, the dangerous element, now tamed for their daily use.
Legends of the Trevi Fountain
Discovery of the water source
The story goes that the location of the spring of water near Tusculum (about 22 miles away from Rome) was shown to a group of soldiers by a girl, the virgin that gave the name to the aqueduct. This legend is illustrated in one of the high reliefs at the top of the monument. Another relief shows Agrippa, Augustus’ son-in-law managing the construction of the aqueduct. The purity of the water correlates with the purity of the girl, as well as the political message of crystal clean intentions of Rome’s elite in providing the much needed resource to the first city in the world with a population of one million people.
The barber’s reward or The Ace of Cups
On the right side of the fountain there is a strange stone vase that seems out of place. There is no matching element on the left side of the fountain and even the style of the vase is not completely in agreement with the rest of the monument. This is the so-called asso di coppe (Ace of cups), called so because of its similarity to a Tarot card by the same name. There is a curious legend, explaining the origin of this cup. During the construction of the monument, a certain barber located in Trevi Square felt compelled to express his ideas about the on-going project and even made suggestions about the manner of building it. He surely had high hopes of seeing more customers, attracted by the beautiful sight of the fountain which could be observed right from his salon’s window. Supposedly, Nicola Salvi got sick and tired of dealing with this barber’s interruptions. He ordered that a stone cup would be built directly in front of the barbery, both as a way to prevent the poor chap from seeing the construction and as punishment for the chagrain already caused. This story does not have much evidence to support it. Someone is yet to find out if there was a barber’s shop in that location in the mid 18th century. However, there was a barber’s shop on the square a few decades ago, as one can witness in this 1952 view. It was located right where the Ace of Cups stands. When visiting the fountain you might want to see for yourself if the view is sufficiently blocked.
Book written near the fountain
Madam de Staël supposedly wrote her entire book, Corinne, Or Italy while sitting by the fountain. Some have doubted her good knowledge of the fountain however, claiming that Corinne (the main character) would not have been able to recognize her lover’s face, as she saw it reflected in the fountain. The water is simply too rough. Here is that sentimental scene from the novel:
In other cities it is the roll of carriages that the ear requires; in Rome it is the murmur of this immense fountain, which seems the indispensable accompaniment of the dreamy life led there. Its water is so pure, that it has for many ages been named the Virgin Spring. The form of Corinne was now reflected on its surface. Oswald, who had paused there at the same moment, beheld the enchanting countenance of his love thus mirrored in the wave: at first, it affected him so strangely that he believed himself gazing on her phantom, as his imagination had often conjured up that of his father: he leaned forward, in order to see it more plainly, and his own features appeared beside those of Corinne. She recognised them, shrieked, rushed towards him and seized his arm, as if she feared he would again escape; but scarcely had she yielded to this too impetuous impulse, ere, remembering the character of Lord Nevil, she blushed, her hand dropped, and with the other she covered her face to hide her tears.
They used to say that the water gushing out of the fountain’s spouts has miraculous healing properties. As the author of an old guide to Rome writes, the water’s “salutary virtues are reputed to cure 12 disorders.”
Everybody knows about the custom of tossing coins in the fountain. A predating practice involved giving someone a drink from the fountain to ensure their return to Rome (or that they will not be kept away from Rome forever). The glass would be broken after use to seal the destiny. Francis Wey, claimed that the habit of throwing small coins into the water was started by the ever practical Germans.
Advice to the architect
After Giuseppe Pannini was chosen to take over the Trevi fountain project, following Nicola Salvi’s death, he received a letter where he was addressed as l’architettino (“little architect”) and reminded of a hundred year old legend. According to the legend, the great Bernini once refused to make any changes to the Pantheon, because it was already perfect. The letter was probably written by Salvi’s brother, in hope of discouraging Pannini from straying away the initial design of the Trevi fountain.