Trevi Fountain Travel Guide
IntroductionConsidered as the largest Baroque fountain in the city of Rome, and definitely one of the most famous and most photographed fountains in the world, the Trevi Fountain is a massive creation in travertine and carrara marble, with a size of 161 feet wide and 86 feet tall.
It wasn’t always this impressive however, and in fact, in 1629, Pope Urban VIII commissioned the famous architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini to come up with new designs for it because he found the original fountain to be underwhelming. Unfortunately, the project was scrapped when the pope died.
It didn’t get much attention until later, in 1730, when a competition for the best redesign of the Trevi Fountain was organized by Pope Clement XII, and the honor was won by the architect Nicola Salvi. Construction began in 1732, but unfortunately, Salvi passed away before the project could be completed, and the construction was taken over by Pietro Bracci. It was finally completed in 1762, a full thirty years after the start of the project, using funds earned from the reintroduction of the lottery in Rome. Since then, the fountain has stood virtually unchanged to this day.
Other than being a beautiful example of classical art, though, the fountain has also served a much more important role in ancient times. It is said that around 19BC, the time of Augustus, a general named Agrippa ordered his soldiers to find a water source near Rome. The soldiers then began their search, until finally, tired and thirsty, they came upon a young virgin girl who led them to a spring of fresh water. This girl of legend has since been named “Aqua Virgo”, and her story is seen depicted in one of the bas reliefs that adorn the fountain.
After discovering this water source, Agrippa then built his aqueduct which would supply water to the capital for over four hundred years. The end point of the aqueduct is at the current location of the Trevi Fountain, which also happens to be a junction for three roads (“tre vie”), a fact from which the fountain derives its name.
What to SeeIconography and Symbolic Sculptures
While it is technically a single fountain, the Trevi Fountain is composed of multiple elements, each of which is a symbol and a part of a story meant to support the fountain’s central theme, “The Taming of the Waters”. These elements and symbolisms of the Trevi Fountain are the following:
- Oceanus: Often mistakenly referred to as the god Neptune, the main figure in the middle of the fountain, standing under the triumphal arch, is actually Oceanus. He is a Greek representation of a great river that was once believed to span the entire earth, and from which all water comes from. He is riding a chariot.
- Two Tritons and Two Horses: The chariot that Oceanus rides in is being pulled by two horses, each being led by a version of the god Triton who is son and herald to Poseidon. Facing the fountain, the horse on the left is wild and untamed, and is being handled by the younger Triton. Meanwhile, the horse on the right is docile and is being led by an older Triton who is blowing on a conch shell. The two horses are meant to symbolize the different moods of the sea.
- Abundance and Health: To Oceanus’ left is the statue of a woman holding a horn of plenty, with a vase lying at her feet. She represents Abundance. On the other side is a woman with a laurel wreath on her head, holding a cup, from which a snake is drinking from. She is Salubrity, or Health.
- Stories in the Bas Reliefs: Above Abundance’s head is a rectangular bas relief which shows a part of the origin story of the fountain. This one features the general Agrippa, who is credited for building the aqueduct which supplies the fountain’s water, explaining his construction plans to Augustus. Meanwhile, on the other side, above Salubrity’s statue, is the part of the story which shows Agrippa’s soldiers who were tasked to search for a source of pure water near Rome, being led to a spring by a young virgin.
- The Four Seasons: Further up the fountain, above the bas reliefs are four female statues that represent the four seasons. From left to right, the figures are holding a Horn of Plenty, ears of wheat, bunches of grapes and a raised wine cup, and a bundle of flowers.
- The Papal Crest: At the very top, or attic, of the fountain can be found the crest of Pope Clement XII who organized the contest in 1730 to design the Trevi Fountain.
There is a legend that throwing coins in the Trevi Fountain can help bring good luck or even love into the life of the person tossing the coin. Turn your back to the fountain, and using your right hand, throw a coin into it over your left shoulder. Legend has it that tossing one coin guarantees your return to Rome. Two coins will have you meeting and starting a romance with an Italian (a Roman, to be exact), while three coins will assure that you marry that said Italian. As evidenced by the sheer amount of coins that accumulate in the waters of the Trevi, it remains a strong tradition. These coins are later collected by designated personnel, and the funds are used for charity purposes.
Tips and Advice
- As with many of Italy’s historic fountains, it is prohibited to wade or swim in the Trevi Fountain. Doing so may get you arrested and/or asked to pay a fine, so no matter how fun or romantic it may seem, we strongly advice against it.
- It is also illegal to take the coins that are thrown into the fountain. Only official personnel from designated charity organizations may collect the coins that accumulate in its waters.
- Take note that as of July 2014, the restoration process on the Trevi Fountain has begun. The fountain has been drained, and tourists are not allowed to throw coins into the drained fountain at this time. Instead, there is a small basin of water in front of it that visitors may use while the project is ongoing. As always, the coins collected are used for charity. The fountain’s restoration is expected to be completed by October 2015.