There are many ways that you can tour Rome, depending on your interests. Obviously food tours are very popular, as are history tours, architecture tours, and tours of famous movie sites. Another great way to see The Eternal City is by visiting the many must-see fountains.
I thought it would be fitting to pay tribute to several of the beautiful iconic landmarks that are scattered around the city, starting in Piazza Navona and finishing with that memorable scene between Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg.
The Must-See Fountains of Rome
Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi
The Fountain of the Four Rivers is nestled in the center of Piazza Navona, showcasing the artwork of several sculptors including Giacomo Antonia Fancelli and Francesco Baratta. The four major rivers – Ganges, Nile, Danube and Plate – are represented by the four statues which surround an impressive obelisk. The fountain itself is a beautiful example of Baroque artwork designed by the legendary Gian Lorenzo Bernini. (It won’t be the last time that we see his name on this list.)
Fontana del Moro
On the opposite side of the Piazza Navona, visitors can marvel at another architectural gem which dates back to 1575. The design originally featured four sculptures of Tritons with a dolphin at its center. Bernini was later tapped for the renovation project where he chose to add a larger Triton grasping a dolphin.
Fontana di Nettuno
The third and final fountain to be found in the Piazza Navona is the imposing Nettuno. Displaying the Roman god Neptune attacking an octopus, this fountain wasn’t always as dramatic. Commissioned in 1576 for Giacomo della Porta, extra details have been added over 300 years later to provide the finished masterpiece that we see today.
Fontana delle Rane
The focal point of the smallest district in Rome, Quartiere Coppede, is the Fountain of the Frogs, which remains just as unique as the surrounding hotchpotch of architecture. The small neighborhood was designed by architect Gino Coppede with a strange and vibrant mix of Baroque, art nouveau and medieval influences. The toad sculptures of the fountain became world famous when the Beatles visited and splashed around its waters.
Fontana delle Tartaruge
Speaking of amphibians, or rather reptiles, the Fountain of the Turtles is another landmark that pays homage to our animal friends. However, the careful observer notes that the turtles are a bit incongruous with the overall style.
In fact, the fountain was designed by the architect Giacomo della Porta and constructed by the sculptor Taddeo Landini between 1580 and 1588. The original plan called for four bronze dolphins on the upper bowl, supported by the upraised hands of four young men. However, the dolphins had to be removed due to insufficient water pressure. This left the upraised hands of the statues “empty-handed,” so to speak.
To correct this eyesore and balance the composition, the four turtles were added in 1658 during a restoration by none other than our good friend Bernini. (Is there a fountain in Rome without his touch?) Notice how lifelike the animals appear to be. This is because Bernini probably used casts of real turtles, as he did with many sculptures of other living creatures.
Fontana del Tritone
This is yet another of Bernini’s masterpieces, gracing the middle of Piazza Barberini. He created it as per the instructions from his patron, Pope Urban VIII, who wanted the sculptor to interpret a passage from Ovid’s Metamorphoses Book I, demonstrating Triton’s control over the waters, and saving mankind from the Great Flood.
“The waters, listening to his trumpet’s roar,
obey the summons, and forsake the shore.”
Fontana delle Naiadi
Never heard of this one? Well, if you’ve been to Rome, I guarantee that you’ve seen it, even if many native Romans don’t know it by name. But it’s the big one in the middle of the roundabout in Piazza della Repubblica, with scantily clad young women splashing about in its waters. (I told you that you’ve seen it!)
This was a remodel done in 1901 with the sculptures of Naiads by Mario Rutelli from Palermo, replacing the original fountain of the Acqua Pia. These are water nymphs from classical mythology giving life to lakes, rivers, springs, and fountains. It’s one of my favorites.
Fontana di Trevi
Now we’re back to where the inspiration for this post started: The Trevi Fountain, made famous by Fellini’s film (La Dolce Vita, 1960) and countless souvenir photos taken by tourists in Rome.
Regarded as one of the great fountains of the world, this architectural masterpiece is one of the city’s tourist hot spots. Conceived by famed architect, Nicola Salvi, it took 30 years to complete with an impressive height of 26 meters. Admire the intricate sculptures and be sure to throw in a coin for good luck. It’s alleged that over 3,000 euros are thrown into the fountain every day.
While visiting in 2011, my own mother was so captivated by this idea that she threw her entire purse in the fountain. (True story, although “dropped” might be more accurate than “threw.”)
Recently, water began flowing once again at Trevi Fountain after a 17-month, 2.2 million euro (£1.55 million; $2.4 million) restoration. The work was sponsored by the Rome-based Fendi fashion house. This trend of public/private partnerships is becoming increasingly crucial for preserving the national treasures in Italy during these tight economic times.
I last stopped by the fountain myself about a month ago when it was still dry. There was access to the area along a temporary bridge—and a small “puddle” where people were still tossing coins.
It’s fun to have a theme when on holiday, and for a city break in Rome, there are many ways to envision this, including the “beautiful fountains” itinerary.
And don’t forget to make a wish! One coin will suffice, though; you don’t have to donate your entire wallet like my mother did.
Another excuse to return to Rome. Now I need to see Fontana delle Rane. Have never been in that neighborhood. I guess Fontana di Nettuno is finished being renovated.
Thanks for this article and all that you write. Enjoy taking your podcasts on the road. Grazie mille!
Fountain of the Turtles? I have to see that one. Thanks for a little insight into a city I thought I knew but maybe I don’t.
Dog-Eared Passport: http://www.johnhendersontravel.com
That fountain is to be found near or almost next to the Ghetto…worth a visit to be sure!
It’s amazing that you could take a trip to Rome just to see the fountains and you would witness more beauty than many other cities have combined!
I’ve often seen fragments from ancient Roman structures just lying around, and thought, “If I could smuggle this back to the US, people would pay $20 just to look at it.”
We have done a complete study, I hope, of the Bernini fountains…absolutely wonderful…as well as many others, including the Trevi. Luckily we were there before “she” went under wraps a year ago. The wraps were lifted a few days after we flew home a couple of weeks ago…sigh…oh well!
Phyllis, how did you do your “complete study?” Was it with a tour group, on your own? Sounds intersting..
I am really enjoying your Blog and especially enjoy your Podcast. Your most recent Ex-Pat podcast have been great. I listen to them as I run and it makes running enjoyable. Keep them coming!
You make reference to great prices for flights to Europe. I look everyday and am discourage by the highest prices I have ever since since becoming an international traveler. I know you are not an agent, but can you recommend a site you use for airfare?
ken in California
Hi Ken! Well, I was primarily speaking about flights WITHIN Europe, which are quite cheap. Regarding International flights, look away from the big US carrier to companies like Norwegian Air, Air Berlin, Icelandair, AerLingus, etc. They’ll get you to The Continent, then you can use one of the low-cost carriers to get to Italy. It’s a lot of hassle to piece together an itinerary, but you’ll save hundreds of dollars. Ciao!!!
grazie per il tuo avvisa e prende il tempo a rispondere!
So glad to hear Trevi is open again so I can throw in my coin(s) again and again! Enjoyed this episode, but was surprised to read about Fontana delle Rane. I have heard of Quartiere Coppede, but have never been there. It is on my list of new places to see if I can fit it in this January.
I just checked Fountains of Rome by H.V. Morton, which is just about my favorite Rome book since I bought it second hand for a hefty price probably 20 plus years ago. It was published in 1966. Neither the fountain nor the Quartiere is mentioned in it. Probably why I hadn’t read about it.
A couple of trips ago (would have to pull out too many journals to know which) my goal was to find all the fountains mentioned in the book. I know I came pretty darn close if I didn’t succeed, but it was a fun goal, and I saw a lot of my favorite city.
Thanks, Joan. It strikes me as a really fun way to explore the city at large. A scavenger hunt for baroque beauty. I’ll have to look up the book you mentioned. Sounds like it’s right up my alley. Ciao!
Roma is so fontana rich! I love all of these and have 2 other favorites. La Barcaccia in Piazza di Spagna that looks like a sinking ship has the coldest water ever and I always look forward to guzzling some on a hot day. The other is the Fontana in Piazza Farnese. I’m fascinated by the fact that the 2 basins of it are giant ancient Roman tubs. I’m looking forward to seeing the Fontana di Trevi again as it was under renovation the last 2 years. I threw a coin over anyways because I wasn’t willing to take the chance I wouldn’t be back to Roma! Thanks for reminding me ho much I love the fontane di Roma.
Hey, those are two great suggestions! It’s tough to narrow down this list since, as you say, Rome is so “fontana-rich!”