The Fontana di Trevi or Trevi Fountain is the most famous and arguably the most beautiful fountain in all of Rome. This impressive monument dominates the small Trevi Square located in the Quirinale district.
The Trevi Fountain is situated at the end of the Aqua Virgo, an aqueduct constructed in 19 BC by Agrippa, the son-in-law of Emperor Augustus. The aqueduct brings water all the way from the Salone Springs (approx. 21 km from Rome) and supplies the fountains in the historic center of Rome with water.
According to legend, Agrippa sent out a group of soldiers to search for a spring near Rome. The spring was found after a young virgin (virgo) showed the source to the soldiers, hence the name of the aqueduct.
Construction of the Fountain
Already in the fifteenth century, a small Trevi Fountain was built here during the papacy of Nicholas V. In 1732, pope Clement XII commissioned Nicola Salvi to create a large fountain at the Trevi Square to replace the existing fountain. A previous undertaking to build the fountain after a design by Bernini was halted a century earlier after the death of pope Urban VIII. Salvi based his theatrical masterpiece on this design. He never saw his monumental Baroque fountain completed. The Trevi Fountain was only inaugurated in 1762, eleven years after Salvi had passed away.
The fountain, which is designed like a monumental triumphal arch, was built against a wall of the Palazzo Poli. It measures twenty meters wide and twenty-six meters high and occupies more than half the square.
The central figure of the fountain, standing in a large niche, is Neptune, god of the sea. He rides a shell-shaped chariot that is pulled by two seahorses. Each seahorse is guided by a Triton. One of the horses is calm and obedient, the other one restive. They symbolize the fluctuating moods of the sea. The statues were sculpted by Pietro Bracci.
On the left-hand side of Neptune is a statue representing Abundance, the statue on the right represents Salubrity. Both these statues were the work of Filippo della Valle.
Above the two allegorical statues are bas-reliefs. The one on the left shows Agrippa, the general who built the aqueduct that carries water to the fountain. He is shown explaining his plan for the aqueduct to Augustus. The bas-relief on the right captures the moment the virgin points to the source of the spring. The allegorical statues on the top, in front of the attic, symbolize the four seasons. Crowning the top is the coat of arms of pope Clement XII.
Water flows over artificial rocks into a large semicircular basin that represents the sea. Every day, some eighty million liters of water flow through the fountain. The water is reused to supply several other Roman fountains, including the Fountain of the Four Rivers, the Tortoise Fountain and the Fountain of the Old Boat in front of the Spanish Steps.
Tossing a Coin
Tradition has it that you will return to Rome if you throw a coin into the fountain’s water basin. You should toss it with your right hand over your left shoulder (or left hand over your right shoulder) with your back to the fountain. You’re not allowed to look behind you while you’re tossing the coin, but the fountain is so large it’s basically impossible to miss.