The Trevi Fountain
The story of one of Rome’s Trevi fountain starts with a young girl. According to legend, the source of the Acqua Virgo aqueduct, which feeds the Trevi, was discovered by a young girl – the titular “virgin” – who later showed it to a group of thirsty Roman soldiers. After falling into disuse and being rehabilitated during the Renaissance, Pope Urban VIII (who never saw a public work that he couldn’t improve) noticed that the original fountain at the newly-christened Acqua Vergine’s terminus just wasn’t quite cutting it. His successor, Pope Clement XII, solved the problem the way Baroque Romans solved all their civic questions, by having a contest. Trouble arrived when the Florentine Alessandro Galilei took the top prize. Unfortunately, he failed to convince the Roman public, who didn’t want a non-Roman designing such a quintessentially Roman fountain. And so the winner was simply ignored and building went ahead with the design of the second-place contestant, Nicola Salvi. The fountain took 30 years to complete and was financed with money garnered from the Roman lotto. The end result is a fountain with a variety of influences and architects. Despite its stylistic melange, its imagery, location, and history make it one of the most striking and beautiful fountains in Rome.
Visiting the Trevi Fountain: What to See
Oceanus, Abundance, and Health
The central theme of the Trevi fountain is Rome’s mastery of water. In the center stands Oceanus, a divine personification of the sea that comes from classical Antiquity. On his flanks are allegorical representations of Abundance, who spills water from a large earn, and Health or Salubrity, who holds a cup with a snake drinking from it (the snake being a classical symbol of health, as seen on the doctor’s symbol, the caduceus). The entire fountain is hewn from blocks of travertine which are the same stone used for the Colosseum.
A Coin or Two
Much of the fame of the Trevi Fountain (named after the three roads, or tre vie, that intersect there) comes from the traditions that surround it and the movies in which is has appeared. The most well-known tradition says that if you face away from the fountain and toss a coin over your shoulder into the water you will return to Rome one day. Secondary traditions have it that two coins over your shoulder will help you find your true love and three are a downpayment on marriage. A fourth tradition sometimes appears in the literature saying that if you drink a cup of the water from the fountain in the presence of your beloved you will never be able to stop loving him or her. Don’t do it. With roughly €3,000 in coins accumulating in the fountain every day (which is dutifully given to charity) it’s nowhere near as clean as it was a few hundred years ago.
Films are one of the main reasons that the Trevi Fountain has become so iconic. In particular, the 1954 romantic comedy Three Coins in the Fountain, along with its Oscar-winning song of the same name, romanticized the over-the-shoulder coin toss. Perhaps even more iconic but far less understood is the scene from Fellini’s cynical deconstruction of a decadent Rome, La Dolce Vita, in which Anita Ekberg drunkenly wades into the fountain. Finally, who could forget Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn stealing a few scenes near the fountain in their immortal romantic comedy Roman Holiday?
Tips for Visiting the Trevi Fountain
The Trevi fountain is a public work and as such it doesn’t open or close, except for renovation. Because it’s fed by an aqueduct (which generates water pressure with gravity) they don’t even turn the water off. It was recently closed for the better part of a year while undergoing renovations by the fashion house Fendi but it is now open again and better than ever. Depending on the season, and the unfathomable machinations of the Roman government, sometimes the lights of the fountain are turned off after a certain time of night. You’re more likely to win a Roman lottery than guess when this might happen, but if you go during high season the lights of the fountain should be on most of the night.
Don’t drink the water. Although the water from the Acqua Vergine aqueduct that feeds the Trevi Fountain is supposed to be among the purest in Rome, all those coins make it less than potable. If you want to partake in the old tradition of water drinking with your one-and-only, take a sip from the Fontanina degli Innamorati or “Lovers’ Fountain” that sits in a little nook to the left of the Trevi fountain.
Also – this goes without saying – wading in the fountain is never allowed, even if you look like Anita Ekberg.
The Best Time to Visit the Trevi Fountain
Although the Trevi Fountain is one of Rome’s most iconic sites, its size generally keeps it from becoming over-crowded. During the high season, (May – September) all of central Rome is packed with visitors and the fountain is no different. But you will never have to wait in line to throw your coin in. That said, if you want a little peace and quiet with this iconic site, the only time you will get it is early in the morning. This goes for all of Rome’s most famous monuments but you will be surprised how much of the city you can have to yourself if you are just willing to set your alarm a little bit earlier.
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