One could argue that Rome, among many things, is the world’s first water park. Roman emperors prioritized access to fresh water for its residents along with food (welfare that looked more like a high-end Vegas buffet) and entertainment (think Christians v. lions). Their aqueducts fed sprawling public bathhouses and thousands of fountains throughout the city offering clean water to all. While the bathhouses may be dried up ruins today, the city continues to gurgle with clean water feeding the city’s 2,000+ fountains. That’s right – on top of everything else wonderful and perfect about Rome, its freaking pristine water is basically healing and will save you tons of money on plastic water bottles. Not only are the fountains a welcome and refreshing beacon on a sweltering summer day, they are positively lovely to look at. I love every fountain in the city, but if you must know, below are my top 6 that I refuse to miss on any trip to Rome.
The Trevi Fountain
Let’s start with Rome’s showstopper. The Trevi is inarguably the most famous fountain in Rome, if not the world. The fountain stands at the junction of three roads (tre vie in italiano, get it get it?) and the terminal of a couple of major aqueducts. One of the aqueducts, Acqua Vergine, was named after the virgin (naturally) who helped Romans locate a pure water source outside the city. The fountain was designed by Rome’s go-to Baroque brain (Gian Lorenzo Bernini) but was ultimately executed by Nicola Salvi and a bevy of other sculptors in the mid-18th century.
Hot Tip: Never take your chances. Always throw a coin in the Trevi before you leave.
The Fountain of the Four Rivers
Located in my favorite piazza of all time, the four rivers fountain has a bit of an unfair advantage. However, it’s a fascinating fountain in its own right, not only for the beautiful craftsmanship, but for the fun facts and snarky secrets it holds. This fountain was also designed by Rome’s golden boy of the Baroque period – Bernini. The fountain depicts the four major rivers of the four major continents of the day: the Nile, Danube, Ganges, and Rio de la Plata. Bernini adorned each river god with attributes to help the passerby better understand the fountain. The Nile pulls a veil over his eyes, reminding us that (at the time) Europeans had not identified the source of the river. The Ganges lounges with his long oar, showcasing the navigability of the river. The Danube gingerly reaches out to a papal seal, saying hello to its European neighbor. Meanwhile, the Rio de la Plata nervously stumbles back on his pile of coins, personifying Europe’s simultaneous lust for and fear of the riches of the new world. Many choose to believe that the frightened Rio de la Plata was a subtle jab at Bernini’s arch-nemesis, Borromini, who designed the church that the Rio de la Plata faces. Although timelines don’t quite add up, I’m going to choose to believe this one.
PS – don’t forget to find the armadillo.
The Fountain of Acqua Paola
Not only does the Fountain of Acqua Paola make this list, but also my list for best panoramas of Rome. The fountain sits high on the Janiculum Hill of and marks the end of the Trajan Aqueduct. The monument itself celebrates the restoration of the aqueduct by Pope Paul V. After a few days in the city, you’ll quickly learn that Romans are recyclers. Therefore, the materials to build the monument were taken from the Forum of Nerva, and the columns came from the OG St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s a bit of a hike to get to the fountain that sits high above Trastevere, but absolutely worth it.
The Fountain of the Turtles
In the quiet Piazza dei Mattei, in the historic Jewish Ghetto of Rome, gurgles this delightful fountain. The original fountain, which was actually turtle-less, was commissioned by the wealthy Mattei family in the 16th century as a water source for the neighborhood. The fountain is a lone mannerist wolf in the baroque world of Rome (note the fishy fingers and elongated necks). However, the statue wasn’t untouched by the baroque, as the turtles were later added by, you guessed it, our boy Bernini.
I Facchino (The Porter)
This little guy can be found on the side of the Banco di Roma on Via Lata. The fountain depicts a water porter who would bring water from the Tiber to sell in the city center before the papal restoration of the ancient aqueducts. Wondering what happened to his face? Well that soft cap apparently triggered Romans who mistook the figure for Martin Luther. Because they couldn’t throw stones at ML himself, this poor porter took the brunt of their anger.
The Four Fountains
The Four Fountains are a bit of a cheat as we’re getting four fountains here for the energy of going to see one. You’ll find these four fountains adorning the corners of the intersection of Via delle Quattro Fontane and Via del Quirnale. The subject matter of the four fountains are believed to represent 2 rivers (the Tiber and the Aniene) and two gods (Diana and Juno). However, some debate that all four depict rivers, on brand with the water theme. They were funded once again by our favorite friends of fountains – the Mattei family (who commissioned the turtle fountain).
Every spigot in Rome that keeps me hydrated
My final fave is a shoutout to every little spigot in Rome (often referred to as nasoni – big noses) that keep me hydrated while exploring the city. If you keep an eye out, you’ll soon realize that you are never far from one of the thousands of nasoni in Rome. Fresh, clean water is subtly woven into the fabric of the city, reminding us of the legacy of the great Roman emperors who wanted their citizens clean, hydrated and happy.
Feeling thirsty? Me too. Tell us your favorite fountains in Rome in the comments.