Since ancient times, the Romans have built both public and courtyard fountains. Their ancient fountains were of simple design and had a functional purpose. However, over time their design evolved. The Baroque period saw the creation of some of the most beautiful fountains in Rome that are among the highlights of the city even today.
The most famous fountain, not only in Rome but probably in the world, is Fontana di Trevi. The design of the fountain is work of the Italian architect Nicola Salvi. Construction began in 1732 and was not completed until 1762. A noticeable element of the fountain, besides the pool, is the statue of the Titan god Oceanus riding a chariot. The fountain is almost always crowded with tourists because of the famous legend, that says anyone who throws a coin in its pool will return to the eternal city.
The origin of this legend is connected to the traditions of ancient Rome. While sailing on the open sea, ancient Roman sailors threw coins in the water for the god Neptune, praying for their safe return home. Because everyone wants to visit Rome again, approximately €3,000 are collected from the bottom of the fountain every night. The money is used for charity work, which is probably why it is illegal to steal the coins from the fountain.
Another remarkable fountain is the work of Pietro Bernini, the father of the famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The construction of Fontana della Barcaccia, meaning the Fountain of the Old Boat, began in 1627 and was completed in 1629. It is designed to look like a boat, due to a legend that claims a boat was carried to the exact same place where the fountain was built during a great flood of the river Tiber in 1528.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the great architect, and sculptor who defined the Baroque period, created several stunning fountains in Rome. The most impressive of them all is Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) located in the center of Piazza Navona. The fountain has four large statues symbolizing the greatest rivers on each of the continents where the Catholic Church was represented: the Nile, the Danube, the Ganges, and the Rio de la Plata, representing Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas respectively.
The fountain also has a sixteen-meter (52ft) tall obelisk that is an ancient Roman creation, contrary to the popular belief that it was brought from Egypt. The obelisk was actually taken from the ruins of the Circus of Maxentius and a dove holding an olive branch was placed on top of it. The fountain was built in 1651 and its symbology is much debated to this day. Many believe that Bernini left a secret message in its structure that is waiting to be decoded.
Arguably the most romantic fountain in Rome is the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola. The fountain is named after the ancient Acqua Paola aqueduct that ends in the same place where the fountain was built. It is located on the Janiculum Hill, thus offering a magnificent view of Rome. Among the locals, it is known as il fontanone (the big fountain) because it was the first massive fountain in the Trastevere neighborhood. Its construction was completed in 1612, following the design plans of Giovanni Fontana. Years after it was built, the fountain would serve as a model for the Trevi fountain.
And last but not least, the remarkable Fontana delle Naiadi located on the Piazza della Repubblica. The construction of the fountain began in 1870 and lasted for eighteen years. The original fountain was ornamented with four sculptures of lions, but in 1901, they were replaced with four sculptures of water nymphs: the Naiad of the Oceans, the Naiad of the Lakes, the Naiad of the Underground Waters, and the Naiad of the Rivers.
The reigning popes commissioned the greatest artists to built these majestic fountains. To this day, they remain well-preserved and iconic landmarks of Rome. Many of them have been used as filming locations in famous movies such as Roman Holiday, La Dolce Vita, Three Coins in the Fountain, and the Oscar-winning The Great Beauty.