There are more than 2000 fountains in Rome. While the most famous fountains in Rome are monumental, decorative ones placed in the best-known squares of the historic center, leaving visitors amazed day-in, day-out; others – known as “nasoni” – are more functional ones and only meant to provide drinking water to locals and tourists.
Fountains are so important in the Italian capital that they regularly feature in Italian movies – the most famous one being La Dolce Vita, whose most iconic scene features actress Anita Ekberg jumping in Trevi Fountain and calling out for Marcello Mastroianni.
Curious to get to know more about fountains in Rome? Let’s start with a bit of history, before focussing on the most famous monumental fountains.
For a seminar on ancient Rome fountains and aqueducts, click here.
How Did Fountains In Rome Came About?
Ancient Romans were famous for their aqueducts, which carried water from outside the city to supply the many villas, decorative fountains, and the baths where they enjoyed spending their free time.
When the Roman Empire collapsed, the aqueducts were pretty much abandoned, and it was only in the 15th century, with Pope Nicholas, that fountains in Rome started appearing once again. He was the one that ordered the restoration of the Acqua Vergine aqueduct and that commissioned Leon Battista Alberti to design a fountain to be placed in the spot where Trevi Fountain is now located.
From then on, and especially between the 17th and the 18th century, more fountains in Rome were built and more aqueducts restored.
Starting in 1870 a different kind of fountains started appearing in the Eternal City – the “nasoni” – or “big noses” in Italian. The name is a clear reference to the shape of the faucet that was meant to provide clean drinking water to the citizens of Rome at a time when running water in houses was unheard of. These also had the function of releasing the pressure on the pipes, so that they would not burst and that bacteria would not accumulate in them.
Nowadays, Rome’s nasoni remain one of travelers’ most favorite features in town, especially during the summer months when they provide a quick, free respite from the heatf. Since tap water in Rome is safe to drink, and the water coming out of the drinking fountains deliciously fresh, all you have to do is carry your own bottle and fill it up any time you need. It’s a great way to save on plastic, too!
Finally, continue reading to discover Rome’s most beautiful fountains.
The Most Famous Fountains In Rome
Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi)
Easily the most famous fountain in Rome, the Trevi Fountain can be found in the city’s Trevi district. Dating back to 1762, the fountain has found fame in modern times, appearing in a string of well-known movies. One such movie is 1953’s Roman Holiday, which sees Audrey Hepburn frolicking in the fountain itself.
In fact, the tradition of throwing coins into the Trevi Fountain was popularized by the movie Three Coins in the Fountain (1954). Throw one coin in, and you’ll return to Rome. Throw in two, and you’ll fall in love. Throw in three, you’ll get married!
An estimated 3,000 Euros are thrown into the Trevi Fountain each day, which is donated to charity every year.
Aside from the coin throwing, the fountain itself is a Baroque masterpiece, and was purposely built at the junction where one of Rome’s ancient aqueducts delivered water to the city.
Check out this guided tour that goes to Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon.
Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi)
You’ll find the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in Rome’s famed Piazza Navona. Designed by celebrated architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini for Pope Innocent X, it depicts four Roman river gods rising from the rocks. There’s even a copy of an Egyptian obelisk at the center, complete with the emblem of the Pope’s family.
The idea of the four river gods is said to represent the major rivers that run through the four continents where the authority of the Pope (and the Catholic church) had spread. Namely, the Nile in Africa, the Danube in Europe, the Ganges in Asia, and the Rio de la Plata in the Americas.
The design is still eye-catching to this day, soaring above the square in the middle of a wide, curved basin of water. It was unveiled to much fanfare in 1655, but had previously been met with opposition due to being commissioned in the middle of a famine.
Turtle Fountain (Fontana della Tartarughe)
The much-loved Turtle Fountain (or Fontana della Tartarughe), situated in the Piazza Mattei, was built in the 1580s. A small and less elaborate fountain than others in Rome, this historic fountain is still an intriguing structure to this day.
Though it may be known as the Turtle Fountain, the bronze turtles which gave it its name were actually added a century after the fountain was first built. It was designed by the architect Giacomo della Porta, who used features adapted from ancient Roman fountains, such as the large bowl of the main fountain which sits on a pedestal held up by four men and eight dolphins. The figures were originally supposed to be made of marble, but were instead cast in bronze because of its more wealthy connotations.
Fontana del Mascherone
The mysterious Fontana del Mascherone – meaning “Big Mask Fountain” – is another of Rome’s smaller yet just as famous fountains to be found in the city. It depicts a large face with an open mouth, through which water gushes into a basin, spilling out into a larger trough. The “mask” section of the fountain – which is not unlike the Mouth of Truth in its look – is ancient, and actually dates back to the Roman age.
It wasn’t until the 17th century that the mask was incorporated into the fountain of today, which was sculpted by Girolamo Rainaldi. At its center, you’ll find the coat of arms of the influential Farnese family. It’s thought that on the occasions of feasts held by the family, the fountain flowed with wine instead of water.
You’ll find this fountain just off the Piazza Farnese – a grand palace once owned by the family, which is today the French embassy.
Fountain of the Frogs (Fontana delle Rane)
Situated in Piazza Mincio, at the center of the Coppedé neighborhood, this fountain was designed by Gino Coppedé, who also redesigned this small quarter of the city. This fountain may look old, but it was actually built in 1924, and with many reflections to the Renaissance designer Bernini. There’s even a nod to him in the form of bees, which Bernini liked to use in his works.
Obviously though, this fountain is named after the many frogs that adorn it. There are 12 in total, intermingling with floral flourishes and spread out across its multiple basins. Jets of water stream from the frogs’ nostrils, while at the center sits a pair of male figures with fishing nets in hand that also contribute to the water from their mouths.
Triton Fountain (Fontana del Tritone)
Another of Bernini’s famous Roman fountains, the Fontana del Tritone or Triton Fountain dates back to the 17th century. Commissioned by his patron Pope Urban VIII, it can be found in Piazza Barberini, close to the entrance of the Palazzo Barberini (today the home of the National Gallery of Ancient Art).
The fountain is crowned by the chiseled Triton – the Greek god of the sea (son of Poseidon and Amphitrite) – who appears dramatically holding a conch shell to his lips, from which a jet of water erupts. At the base, he is supported on four dolphin tails, while other elaborate icons – and Bernini’s favorite, bees – adorn the structure.
Fountain of the Naiads (Fontana delle Naiadi)
This large, landmark fountain may not be as old as others in the city – in fact, it dates back to 1901 – but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. The Fountain of the Naiads sits in the center of the Piazza della Repubblica, acting almost like a traffic circle for the multiple roads that intersect here.
Sitting at the summit of Verminal Hill, and pretty much next door to Termini Station, this will be the first fountain that many see if they arrive in Rome by train. The figures that rise from the fountain are the Naiads, four water nymphs of Roman mythology – they represent the lakes (holding a swan), rivers (laying on a river monster), oceans (riding a horse), and underground waters (reclining over a dragon).
Fontana della Barcaccia
Located at the foot of the famous Spanish steps in Piazza di Spagna, this is a well-loved fountain that was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII in 1623. Built in the Baroque style by Bernini, the name means “Fountain of the Boat”, which is obvious when you see the large, half-submerged boat in the middle of the basin.
The boat itself is overflowing with water, which spouts from a central fountain and other smaller jets at either end of the boat. It’s fed by the famous Acqua Vergine, one of Rome’s ancient aqueducts that delivers pure drinking water to the city. Bernini had to make sure the fountain was situated just below street level so that the fountain would work (because of low water pressure).
Legend has it that the River Tiber flooded in 1598 – with it, came a small boat that washed into the center of the piazza. When the water receded, the boat remained in the square, and thus inspired Bernini’s creation.
Fontana di Nettuno (Neptune Fountain)
Situated on the northern end of Piazza Navona, the Fontana di Nettuno is one of the best-known fountains in Rome. It originally dates back to the 1570s, when it began life as a simple white marble basin without any statues. It remained this way for the next 300 years, until the imposing sculpture of Neptune fighting an octopus was added.
This grand fountain also features sculptures of other mythological figures and creatures too. It sits on the opposite side to the Fountain of the Four Rivers. Initially, the fountain was called Fontana dei Calderari because of its location close to a narrow alleyway where blacksmiths made pots and pans.
Fontana dei Libri (Fountain of the Books)
This tiny fountain can be easily missed, but if you’re on a treasure hunt to find all of Rome’s famous fountains then you can find it down an unassuming street close to Piazza Navona. Built in honor of the University of Sapienza in 1927, the fountain occupies a small niche overhung with an arch on which letters “SPQR” (Senatus Populusque Romanus, Latin for “the senate and the people of Rome”) are engraved.
At its center is a deer’s head – a symbol of the district – with piles of books on either side, under which water spouts out. Behind this wall are Italy’s State Archives.
Fontana del Moro
Another fountain in the Piazza Navona, the Fontana del Moro is also known as “Moor Fountain.” Representing a Moorish person (though some think it’s supposed to be Neptune) standing atop a conch shell while wrestling with a dolphin.
The figure is also surrounded by four depictions of Triton, all of it sitting in a rose-colored marble basin. The design dates back to 1575, when it was constructed by Giacomo della Porta. It was originally only the dolphin and the Tritons – it wasn’t until 1653 that the additional, perhaps Moorish, statue was added by Bernini.
The small Triton statues are actually copies – the originals were removed in 1874 and put into a museum.
Fontana dell’Acqua Paola (The Acqua Paola Fountain)
This is another of Rome’s famed fountains that’s actually fed by one of the ancient city’s aqueducts, Acqua Paola. Situated on the Janiculum Hill, it was built in 1612 as a landmark at the terminus of the aqueduct itself. This sizable monument was actually the first fountain of its type to be built on the right bank of the River Tiber.
Later, Pope Paul V ordered this large fountain to be rebuilt, and also had the Acqua Traiana aqueduct extended in order to provide clean drinking water to the residents of the area. At the time, they had been drinking water from the polluted river itself.
This spectacular fountain may not be the Trevi Fountain, but it’s well worth a trip just to marvel at its beauty (in fact, it was actually the inspiration for the Trevi Fountain). It was created out of white marble sourced from the ruins of the ancient Roman Temple of Minerva, and sculpted into a palatial structure, with five arches where five gushing streams poured into five large marble basins.
It’s so large that it could be mistaken for a pool – in fact, many people in the area used to bathe in the water, until an ordinance was ordered in 1707 forbidding this act.
Fontana delle Api (Fountain of the Bees)
Located in Piazza Barberini, the Fontana delle Api was built for Pope Urban VIII in 1644. This small fountain can be easily overlooked, due to its shaded location (and size, of course), but it’s an adorable addition to Rome’s famous fountains.
Not intended for bees originally, but instead as a watering trough for horses, it consists of a small, scalloped basin with a marble shell rising out of one side. Three sculpted bees sit on the valves that replenish the fountain’s water, which is where it gets its name.
Fontana del Pantheon
Commissioned by Pope Gregory VIII, this fountain can be found in the Piazza della Rotonda, directly in front of the Roman Pantheon (hence the name). It was designed by Giacomo della Porta in 1575, and sculpted by Leonarda Sormani out of marble.
It is not in its original form, however. In 1711, Pope Clement XI ordered modifications to be made to the fountain, including a new basin, new layout, and the addition of an obelisk dating back to the reign of Ramses II (1279 – 1213 BC).
There is a replica of the Fontana del Pantheon in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, in one of the city’s major squares.
Fontana della Botte (Fountain of the Barrel)
If you thought all of Rome’s famous fountains depicted ornate subjects and deities, then allow me to introduce this – the Fountain of the Barrel. Quite literally depicting a barrel as its centerpiece, the fountain is set into a small marble grotto set into a brick wall.
But the barrel is more significant than you’d think – barrels were used for transporting in Roman times and symbolizes the wine bars that were once plentiful in this area. The barrel and two carafes either side overflow with water (not wine, unfortunately). It was built in 1927, as a part of a drive to commission fountains and other works of art that reflected the characteristics of Rome’s neighborhood. This one is in Trastevere.
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