Trevi Fountain (Rome)

FROM The man in the front seat / May 15, 2014

In 19BC Marcus Agrippa, as Consul of Rome, ordered the construction of an aqueduct, Acqua Vergine,  to supply water to the centre of Rome. Legend has it that Roman soldiers were guided by a young girl  to a source of pure water, Salone Springs, some twenty kilometres away from the city. The girl was believed to be a virgin, hence the name of the aqueduct. More than 2000 years later, and after few renovations, water still follows the same path ending in various destinations around Rome.

One of these is the Trevi Fountain.

In 1730, Pope Clement XII, organised a contest to design a new fountain to decorate the back of the Palazzo Poli, in central Rome. A fountain already existed that had been built in the 15th century under Pope Nicholas V but Clement found this old one insufficiently theatrical. The winner was Alessandro Galilei, from Florence, and as a result Romans were up in arms that a Florentine would designing their fountain. Eventually the Pope changed his mind a awarded the commission to Nicola Salvi, a Roman. Salvi ‘s design was actually based on an earlier design put forward by Gian Lorenzo Bernini more than a hundred years earlier in 1629. Bernini’s plan was never constructed as the Pope at the time, Urban VIII, died and the Pope that followed had no interest in the Fountain. Work eventually began using Salvi’s plan in 1732 and in 30 years was completed in 1762. Today remains the largest Baroque fountain in the city. Salvi unfortunately never saw the fountain completed as he died in 1751. Before his death he nominated Giuseppe Pannini as his successor so today the fountain remains the work of Bernini, Salvi and Pannini.

The Design

The fountain stands 25.9m (85ft) high and is 19.8m (65ft) wide. The central figure is Neptune God of the sea although some believe it is Oceanus, a  Greek/Roman personification of the World Ocean, a mythological river that encircles the world. He stands in a chariot which is made from a shell and is pulled by two horses. The horses represent the the changing moods of the sea with one representing the calmness of the oceans and the other representing its fierceness. Each horse is led by a Triton. The columns on either side of Neptune are free-standing thus allowing the maximum amount of light and shade on the figure.

Flanking Neptune in niches are the goddess Abundance (left), who spills water from an urn giving her gifts to the people of Rome and on the other side the goddess Health(right), holding a cup from which a serpent, the symbol of medicine, drinks. Above are two small reliefs, one depicting the legend of how the Romans discovered the water source and the other being Marcus Agrippa giving permission for the aqueduct to be constructed.

Above the reliefs are four figures representing the Four Seasons and crowning the fountain is the crest of the Orsini Family


Three Coins in a Fountain, the 1954 film, highlighted a legend of throwing coins into the fountain. Three coins are thrown from the right hand over the left shoulder bring health, wealth (sometime love) and a guarantee that you will return to Rome. It is estimated that almost 3000 coins are thrown daily which are collected and used to subsidized a supermarket for Rome’s needy.


Not only was the fountain featured in Three Coins in a Fountain, it has also appeared in the 1966 film with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn Roman Holiday. Italian Director Federico Fellini’s used it in his film La Dolce Vita which starred Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni. In fact when Mastroianni died in 1966 the fountain was turned off and draped in black in honour of his memory.


The Trevi Fountain is only one sight that is visited with a local guide on:

ROM16: Piazzas & Fountains

Trevi Fountain (Rome)
Rome. Trevi Fountain, Rome
Rome. Figure of Neptune, Trevi Fountain, Rome
Rome. Horse representing the fierceness of the oceans and his Triton from the Trevi Fountain
Rome. Agrippa giving permission to build Aquae Virgene on the Trevi Fountain.
Rome. Figure of Abundance from the Trevi Fountain
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