Villa d’Este – Gardens (Tivoli, Italy)

The Garden of Villa d'Este

The Garden of Villa d’Este

The palatial setting of Villa d’Este is surrounded by a spectacular terraced garden, in the late-Renaissance Mannerist and Baroque style, which took advantage of the dramatic slope but required innovations in bringing a sufficient water supply, which was employed in cascades, water tanks, troughs and pools, water jets and impressive concentration of fountains, water games. This masterpiece of the Italian Garden is included in the UNESCO world heritage list.

Descending into the garden from the villa

Descending into the garden from the villa

Reviving Roman techniques of hydraulic engineering to supply water to a sequence of fountains, the cardinal created a fantasy garden whose architectural elements and water features had an enormous influence on European landscape design and their garden planning and water features such as fountains, nymphs, grottoes, plays of water and music were much copied in the next two centuries, in European gardens from Portugal to Poland to St. Petersburg. The result is one of the series of great 17th century villas with water-play structures in the hills surrounding the Roman Campagna, such as the Villas Aldobrandini and Torlonia in Frascati; the Villa Lante and the Villa Farnese at Caprarola.

Strolling the gardens

Strolling the gardens

  • Painter, architect, archaeologist and Classical scholar Pirro Ligorio was commissioned to lay out the gardens for the villa, with the assistance of Tommaso Chiruchi (he had worked on the fountains at Villa Lante) of Bologna, one of the most skilled hydraulic engineers of the sixteenth century. In the technical designs for the fountains, Chiruchi was assisted by Claude Venard, a Frenchman who was a manufacturer of hydraulic organs.
  • From 1605 Cardinal Alessandro d’Estegave the go-ahead to a new progam of interventions.  He restored and repaired the vegetation and the waterworks and created a new series of innovations to the layout of the garden and the decorations of the fountains.
  • From 1660 – 61, works on 2 fountains were carried out involving Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
  • In the eighteenth century the villa and its gardens passed to the House of Habsburg after Ercole III d’Este bequeathed it to his daughter Maria Beatrice, married to Grand Duke Ferdinand of Habsburg. The gardens were slowly abandoned and  The hydraulics fell into disuse and ruin, and many of the collection of ancient sculptures, enlarged under Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, were disassembled and scattered to other sites. This picturesque state of decay continued, without interruption, until the middle of the 19th century.  It was recorded by Carl Blechen and other painters.
  • In 1851, Cardinal Gustav von Hohelohe, Prince of Hohenlohe-Schillingfürst, obtained the villa, in enfiteusi, from the Dukes of Modena.  To pull the complex back from its state of ruin, he launched a series of works. Between 1867 and 1882, the villa once again became a cultural point of reference.

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The garden has been celebrated in poetrypainting and music:

Villa d’Este’s fame and glory as one of the finest gardens of the Renaissance was established by its extraordinary system of fountains.  It has 51  fountains and nymphaeums, 398 spouts, 364 water jets, 64 waterfalls and 220 basins, all fed by 875 m. of canals, channels and cascades, and all working entirely by the force of gravity, without pumps.

The gardens, now part of the Grandi Giardini Italiani, fall away in a series of terraces. The garden plan is laid out on a central axis with subsidiary cross-axes, refreshed by some 500 jets in fountains, pools and water troughs. Originally supplied with water by the Rivellese spring (which supplied a cistern under the villa’s courtyard), it is now supplied with water by the nearby Aniene River, which is partly diverted through the town, a distance of a kilometer.

Vialone

The Vialone with the Cenacolo in the background

The Vialone, a large, 200 m. long terrace that lies between the villa and the gardens, was constructed between 1568 and 1569.  It has a panoramic view of the gardens and countryside beyond and the Cardinals used the space for fireworks, games, spectacles and festivities. Originally shaded by two rows of elm trees (except for the space directly in front of the villa, left empty to preserve the view), the terrace is enclosed at one end by the Fountain of Europa and, at the other, by the Cenacolo, an immense loggia and belvedere, in the form of a triumphal arch, that provided shade beneath in summer, as well as commanding viewpoints of the scenery. Its interior, originally intended to be decorated with stucco decoration, gilding and frescoes, was never finished.

The double loggia in the center of the terrace, made with travertine stone from 1566–1577, is attached to the facade of the villa. Two stairways provide access to the ceremonial salons on the lower floor. Its upper level, created as a terrace for the Cardinal’s apartments, contains a Nymphaeum (grotto) where the Fountain of Leda is located.  The original statuary of the fountain, depicting Jupiter and Leda transformed into a swan and four children (Elena, Clytemnestra, Castor and Pollux), was sold in the 18th century and is now in the Galleria Borghese in Rome. The original fountain featured a novel hydraulic trick – water spouting from a vase held by Leda struck a metal disk, causing flashes of light to reflect on the walls of the grotto.  The statuary has been replaced by headless statue of Minerva, found in the garden of the Palazzo Manni in Tivoli.

The Fountain of the Tripod, a copy (the original is now in the Louvre) of an ancient Roman fountain in the center of the Vialone, has only been there since 1930.  It consists of a marble basin supported by a central column and three pilasters. The Fountain of the Sea Horses, the original fountain on the site, was moved, by Ippolito, from Hadrian’s Villa to his garden.  It is now in the Vatican Museum.

The Fountain of Europa, at the northeast end at the top of the garden, was begun by Ippolito but was not finished until 1671. Its design, copying that of the Grand Loggia, consists of a triumphal arch with two orders (Corinthian and Doric) of columns.  The large empty niche in the center once held a sculpture Europa Embracing the Bull which is now in the VIlla Albani in Rome.

From Fountain of the Tripod, two ramps lead down to the upper garden and, at either end, there are symmetrical double flights of stairs. The shaded Cardinal’s Walk, attached to the retaining wall of the terrace, leads from one side of the garden to the other, passing by several grottos which are built into the retaining wall. The Grotto of Igea and Aesculpius, at the southeast end of the walk, just below the Fountain of Europa, is decorated with tartar flakes, mosaics and colored fragments of sea shells, and a small portion of the original fresco. It originally held two statues.  The statue of Aesculpius, the God of Medicine, is now found in the Louvre while that of Igea, the daughter of Auesculpius and the Goddess of Healing, is now in the Vatican Museum.

The Loggia of Pandora, in the middle of the Cardinal’s Walk, just below the center of the Villa, is covered, with arcades looking out at the garden. It contains a nymphaeum built into the wall and, originally, was decorated with mosaics and with two statues of Minerva and a statue of Pandora carrying a vase (actually a concealed fountain pouring out water) of water (symbolizing the evils of the world).   The statues were sold in the 18th century.  The staue of Pandora and one of the Minervas are now in the Capitoline Museum. In the 19th century, the nymphaeum was converted into a Christian chapel, a favorite place of the composer Franz Liszt, who dedicated two pieces of music to the chapel.

Fontana del Bicchierone (Fountain of the Great Cup)

Fontana del Bicchierone (Fountain of the Great Cup)

The Fountain of the Bicchierone, one of two fountains created for the villa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, was made between 1660 and 1661 on a commission from Cardinal Rinaldo I d’Este. The basin of the fountain, in the form of a large shell which reaches up to the level of the terrace, has a toothed Bicchierone (cup or chalice) in the center, from which water sprays upwards. Bernini supervised the building of the fountain and, following its inauguration in May 1661, had the height of the spouting water reduced, to avoid blocking the view from the Loggia of Pandora. Though not part of the original design of the garden, the fountain became a link between the architecture of the palace and the garden.

Fontana del Bicchierone (Fountain of the Great Cup)

Fontana del Bicchierone (Fountain of the Great Cup)

The Loggetta of the Cardinal, a small ballustraded terrace between the Fountain of the Biccherone and the garden, was said to be the Cardinal’s favorite spot for reading and discussing poetry and art, and watching the construction of the garden around him. Surrounded by high laurel hedges and stone benches, it originally had a large statue (now found in the Louvre), installed shortly after the Cardinal’s death, of Hercules with the boy Achilles in his arms, overlooking the garden below. It was one of three statues of Hercules, in central positions along the central axis, that were all visible when seen from the bottom the garden, aligned with the loggia of the villa at the top.

The Grotto of Diana, at the end of the Cardinal’s Walk, below the Gran Loggia, is a large underground vaulted chamber decorated from 1570-72 by Paolo Caladrino.  It is completely covered with mosaics of mythological scenes, with images of fish, dragons, dolphins, pelicans and other animals, as well as the eagles and apples of the d’Este family. The rustic fountain, its central feature, has a statue of the goddess Diana in a large niche decorated with stucco reliefs of landscapes, the sea and a ship. Sold in the 18th century, all of these statues are now in the Capitoline Museum in Rome. Some of the original 16th century majolica floor tiles can still be seen.

A walkway, below the Loggetta of the Cardinal, traverses the garden and passes by three grottoes. The Grotto of Hercules, in the center, is covered by the Loggetta of the Cardinal. Beneath it is  a cistern and some of the hydraulic machinery for the fountains below. The grotto once had stucco reliefs of either animals or the labors of Hercules and a statue of Hercules in repose (now in the Vatican Museum).

Mask spouting water in the Grotto of Pomona

Mask spouting water in the Grotto of Pomona

The Grotto of Pomona, similar in design to the Grotto of Hercules, has some of its original mosaic decoration still visible. The water from a white marble mask (found when the fountain was restored in 2002) pours into a fountain.

Fontana dell'Ovato (Oval Fountain)

Fontana dell’Ovato (Oval Fountain)

The Oval Fountain (Fontana dell’Ovato) one of the first and among the most famous fountains in the garden, was designed by Pirro Ligorio as a water theater, spraying water in variety of forms. Begun in 1565 and finished in 1570, it was made by fountain engineers Tomasso de Como and Curzio Maccarono, with sculpture by Raffaello Sangallo. A massive stone basin, set against the semicircular back wall, cascades water into the fountain and sprays it into the air while water jets into the basin, from vases in the hands of statues of Nereids, and also sprays in fan shapes from vases in niches in the semicircular wall behind the fountain.

fontana-dellovato-oval-fountain-2

An artificial mountain, rising above the fountain, symbolizes the Tiburtine landscape.  The mountain is pierced by three grottoes, each pouring forth water, and is decorated with statues representing the Sibyl Albunesa with her son Melicerte, by Gillis van den Vliete (1568), and statues representing rivers Erculaneo and Anio, by Giovanni Malanca (1566), all of which pour water into the Oval Fountain.

An upper walkway, above the fountain, leads past past the ring of basins and cascades. The Grotto of Venus, the fountain’s own grotto, was designed by Pirro Ligorio and built in 1565–68. It served as a meeting place for guests on hot summer days. A figure of Venus, similar to the Capitoline Venus, and two putti , the original statues of the grotto, are no longer there but traces of the monochrome murals of grotesque figures, tiles and sculpted grotto walls still remain.

The fountain on a side wall, framed within a Doric, contains a sculpture of a sleeping nymph in a grotto guarded by d’Este heraldic eagles, with a bas-relief framed in apple boughs that links the villa to the Garden of the Hesperides.

Flanking the central axis are symmetrical double flights of stairs that lead to the next garden terrace.  The Grotto of Diana, richly decorated with frescoes and pebble mosaic, is on one side. Water rom the central Fontana del Bicchierone (“Fountain of the Great Cup”), planned by Bernini in 1660, issues from a seemingly natural rock into a scrolling shell-like cup.

La Rometta (Little Rome)

La Rometta (Little Rome)

To descend to the next level, there are stairs at either end.  La Rometta (“the little Rome”), an elaborate fountain complex, is at the far left.  The boat, with an obelisk mast, symbolizes the Tiburtina island in the Tiber, below the statue of Rome Triumphant.

Hundred Fountains

Hundred Fountains

The water jets of the Hundred Fountains (Cento Fontane), on the next level, fill the full length of a long rustic trough.  The Fontana dell’Ovato ends the cross-vista. A visitor may walk behind the water through the rusticated arcade of the concave nymphaeum, which is peopled by marble nymphas by Giambattista della Porta. Above the nymphaeum, the sculpture of Pegasus recalls to the visitor the fountain of Hippocrene on Parnassus, haunt of the Muses.

Hundred Fountains

Hundred Fountains

The 16th-century Fontana di Diana Efesina (Fountain of Diana of Ephesus) has water flowing from her numerous breasts, symbolizing fertility and abundance, both of nature and of intellect.

Fountain of Diana of Ephesus

Fountain of Diana of Ephesus

The central Fontana dei Draghi (Fountain of the Dragons), dominating the central perspective of the gardens, was erected for a visit in 1572 of Pope Gregory XIII whose coat-of-arms features a dragon. It unites the terrace to the next.  The sound of this fountain was in contrast to a nearby Uccellario with artificial birds. Central stairs lead down a wooded slope to three rectangular fishponds set on the cross-axis at the lowest point of the gardens.  It is terminated, at the right, by the water organ (now brought back into use) and Fountain of Neptune (belonging to the 20th century restorations). 

Neptune Fountain

Neptune Fountain

The very formal Fountain of the Owl, at the southwest part of the garden, below the Fountain of Rometta and the Fountain of Proserpina, was built between 1565 and 1569 by Giovanni del Duca, These 3 fountains have terraces connected by stairways, with nymphaeums placed beneath the terraces. Placed on a terrace surrounded by walls with niches, it crowned with the white eagles and lily symbols of the d’Este.

The Fountain of the Owl (a.k.a. Bird's Fountain)

The Fountain of the Owl (a.k.a. Bird’s Fountain)

The fountain, covered with polychrome tiles, has the coat of arms of the d’Este, held by two angels, at the top, above the niche flanked by Ionic columns. Though the architectural elements are intact, the statues of two youths holding a goatskin which poured water into a basin held by three satyrs are missing or were destroyed. The sculpture in the niche, believed lost, was rediscovered during a renovation in 2001–02, hidden under mineral deposits and earth.

This fountain also produced music, thanks to Its ingenious automaton made by the French organ maker Luc Leclerc, installed in 1566, before the Fountain of the Organ on the other side of the garden. It featured wenty painted bronze birds placed in the niche, posed on two metal olive branches. Each bird sang an individual song, produced by piped water and air. A mechanical owl appeared, and the birds stopped singing; then, at the end of the performance, all the birds sang together. This musical feature was admired and copied in other European gardens, and functioned until the end of the 17th century. It needed constant repair due the action of the water on its delicate mechanism, and by the 19th century were completely ruined. The decorative elements of the fountain were completely restored in the 19030s, and restored again in 2001-2002, [21]

During the restoration work of 2001–02, the workers found some of the original mechanism that produced the bird songs, including the wind chamber, the tubes that moved the air and water, and the machinery that made the owl move. Using modern materials, Leonardo Lombardi was able to make a new version of the old machinery so the birds can sing and move again.

The series of terraces above terraces and the imposing constructions in the hanging cliffs of the “Valle gaudente” bring to mind the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world plus, the addition of water (including an aqueduct tunneling beneath the city) evokes the engineering skill of the Romans.  Its landscape, art and history (which includes the important ruins of ancient villas such as the magnificent Villa Adriana) as well as a zone rich in caves and waterfalls (which display the unending battle between water and stone) is generally considered within the larger and, altogether extraordinary, context of Tivoli itself.

Fountain of the d'Este eagles

Fountain of the d’Este eagles

Villa d‘ Este: Piazza Trento, 5, 00019 Tivoli,  RM, Italy. Tel: 0039 0412719036. Fax: 0039 0412770747. E-mail:  villadestetivoli@teleart.org. Website: www.villadestetivoli.info.

Open 8.30 AM – 6.45 PM (May to August), 8:30 AM – 4 PM (January, November, December), 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM (February), 8:30 AM – 5:15 PM (March), 8:30 AM – 6:30 PM (April), 8:30 AM – 5:30 PM (October) and 8:30 AM – 6:15 PM (September). Admission: € 8.00. The visitor can take pictures without any physical contact with the cultural heritage and he cannot use either flash or tripod. 

How to Get There:

  • Taking the blue regional COTRAL busRoma Tivoli-Via Prenestina at the bus terminal just outside Ponte Mammolo station of metro line B; the stop Largo Nazioni Unite is about 100m far from the entrance of the Villa.
  • Taking the urban train line FL2 (Roma-Pescara Line) from Tiburtina stationto Tivoli station (Stazione Tivoli), then, local bus CAT number 1 or 4/ to Piazza Garibaldi stop; the stop is in Tivoli’s main square in front of the Villa.

Spanish Steps (Rome, Italy)

The monumental Spanish Steps

The monumental Spanish Steps

The monumental  Spanish Steps (ItalianScalinata di Trinità dei Monti), a stairway of 135 steps (the slightly elevated drainage system is often mistaken for the first step), climbs a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, was built from 1723–1725 with French diplomat Étienne Gueffier’s bequeathed funds of 20,000 scudi.

Piazza di Spagna

Piazza di Spagna

Designed by the little-known architect Francesco de Sanctis (though Alessandro Specchi was long thought to have produced the winning entry), following a competition in 1717, it links the Bourbon Spanish Embassy and the Trinità dei Monti church (under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France), both located above at the top, to the Holy See in Palazzo Monaldeschi below.

Trinità dei Monti Church

Trinità dei Monti Church

At the base of the stairway is the  Fontana della Barcaccia (“Fountain of the ugly Boat”), an Early Baroque sculptural fountain built, with travertine as its material, from 1627–29.  It is often credited to Pietro Bernini who, since 1623, was Pope Urban VIII’s architect for the Acqua Vergine, an aqueduct from 19 BC which is the source of the fountain’s water. His more famous son, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, was recently said to have collaborated on the decoration. According to a legend, the pope had the fountain installed after he had been impressed by a boat brought here by the 1598 flood of the Tiber River.

Fontana della Barcaccia

Fontana della Barcaccia

Fontana della Barcaccia (4)

The center baluster

Made into the shape of a half-sunken ship, with water overflowing from its sides into a small basin, it was built slightly below street level due to the low water pressure (hence no water spectacle) from the aqueduct which flows from seven points of fountain: – the center baluster; two inside the boat (from sun-shaped human faces) and four outside the boat. As a reminder of Pope Urban VIII’s ancestry, the fountain is decorated with the papal coat of arms of the Barberini family.

Fontana della Barcaccia (3)

Sun-shaped human faces

As one begins to climb the steps one can see, at the corner on the right, the house where English poet John Keats lived and died in 1821.  It is now a museum dedicated to his memory, full of memorabilia of the English Romantic generation.

Keats-Shelley Memorial House (1)

The Spanish Steps was featured in a number of films, TV shows and music albums:

  • The 1953 film Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, made the Spanish Steps famous to an American audience.
  • Halfway up the steps, on the right, was the apartment that was the setting for the 1961 film The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone.
  • A house next to the Steps is also the setting or Bernardo Bertolucci‘s 1998 film Besieged.
  • The Steps were featured prominently in the film version of The Talented Mr. Ripley starring Matt Damon in the title role.
  • The Spanish Steps are featured in a scene in the 2015 film The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
  • The Steps are featured in numerous scenes in Alfred Bester‘s 1956 novel The Stars My Destination.
  • In an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond which aired on October 2, 2000, Ray, Debra, Frank, and Marie climb the Spanish Steps during a family vacation in Rome.
  • Refugee, a progressive rock group, recorded the song “Credo” in 1974.  It contains the lyrics “I believe in constant pauses / Like a Roman holiday / And I often stop for air / As I climb the Spanish stairs.”
  • When I Paint My Masterpiece,” a Bob Dylan song first recorded in 1971 by The Band and later appearing on the album Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II, mentions both the “Spanish Stairs” and the Colosseum.
  • In 1995, Norwegian singer/songwriter Morten Harket, from A-ha, released a song called “Spanish Steps” on his album Wild Seed.
  • “Walk Through the World,” a Marc Cohn song released in 1993 album The Rainy Season, includes the lyric “From the Spanish Steps to the Liberty Bell, I know the angels have seen us.”
  • The title song from Guy Clark‘s Dublin Blues album (1995) contains the lyric: “I loved you on the Spanish Steps / The day you said goodbye.”
  • The song “Spanish Steps of Rome,” a bonus track in the North American & Japanese versions of the Mindfields album released in 1999 by American rock band Toto, describes a femme fatale romance that takes place on and around the Spanish Steps.
  • In 2005, American rock band Of A Revolution released One Shot from their album Stories of a Stranger, which contains the lyrics “Rome is burning, you can taste the embers / I am walking hard on Spanish Steps.”
  • In 2007, John Tesh of Entertainment Tonight fame, recorded an instrumental tune called “Spanish Steps” on his A Passionate Life.

The Spanish Steps have been restored several times, most recently in 1995. 

L-R: Jandy and the author

L-R: Jandy and the author

Spanish Steps: Piazza di Spagna, RomeItaly

Trevi Fountain (Rome, Italy)

Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain


The impressive Trevi Fountain (ItalianFontana di Trevi), designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Pietro Bracci, is one of the most famous fountains in the world and arguably the most beautiful fountain in all of Rome. The fountain, located at the junction of three roads (tre vie), marks the terminal point of the “modern” Acqua Vergine, the revived Aqua Virgo, one of the aqueducts that supplied water to ancient Rome.

Bas-relief of the virgin pointing to the source of the spring

Bas-relief showing the virgin pointing to the source of the spring

Legend has it that in 19 BC, thirsty Roman soldiers, supposedly with the help of a young virgin girl, located Salone Springs, a source of pure water some 13 kms. (8.1 mi.) from the city (This scene is presented on the present fountain’s façade). The discovery of the source led Augustus Caesar to commission the construction, by Agrippa, his son-in-law, of the Aqua Virgo (Virgin Waters, in honor of the legendary young girl), a 22-km. (14-mi.) aqueduct leading into the city. The aqueduct served the hot Baths of Agrippa, and Rome, for over 400 years.

Bas-relief showing Agrippa, explaining his plan for the aqueduct to Augustus Caesar

Bas-relief showing Agrippa, explaining his plan for the aqueduct to Augustus Caesar

Work on the fountain began in 1732 and it was completed by Giuseppe Pannini in 1762, long after Salvi’s death in 1751, when Pietro Bracci‘s Oceanus (god of all water) was set in the central niche. Pannini substituted the present allegories for planned sculptures of Agrippa and “Trivia,” the Roman virgin. On May 22, 1762, it was officially opened and inaugurated by Pope Clement XIII. Today, it remains one of the most historical cultural landmarks in Rome.

Palazzo Polli and the Trevi Fountain

Palazzo Poli and the Trevi Fountain

The Palazzo Poli, the backdrop for the fountain, was given a new façade, with a giant order of Corinthian pilasters linking the two main stories. Taming of the waters is the theme of the gigantic scheme that tumbles forward, mixing water and rockwork, and filling the small square. A chariot in the shape of a shell, the central feature of the monument, is drawn by seahorses with as their guide.

Corinthian pilasters

Corinthian pilasters

Even the palace in the background blends perfectly with the composition and the game of space and mass gives an air of movement to the entire statue.

Oceanus riding a shell-shaped chariot

Oceanus riding a shell-shaped chariot

At the center, superimposed on the palazzo façade, is a robustly-modeled triumphal arch. For maximum light and shade, the enormous central niche (exedra) framing Oceanus (or Neptune), god of the sea, has free-standing columns. He rides a shell-shaped chariot that is pulled by two hippocamps (sea horses), one calm and obedient and the other one restive, and each guided by a Triton.

The calm and obedient hippocamp and his Triton

The calm and obedient hippocamp and his Triton

Sculpted by Pietro Bracci, the statues symbolize the fluctuating moods of the sea. Even with the maximum contrast in their mood and poses, both hippocamps and Tritons provide symmetrical balance.

The restive hippocamp and his Triton

The restive hippocamp and his Triton

In the niches flanking Oceanus are the statues of Abundance (spills water from her urn) and Salubrity (holds a cup from which a snake drinks).

Statue of Abundance

Statue of Abundance

Statue of Salubrity

Statue of Salubrity

Above, bas reliefs illustrate the Roman origin of the aqueducts. The bas-relief on the left shows Agrippa, the general who built the aqueduct that carries water to the fountain, explaining his plan for the aqueduct to his father-in-law Augustus Caesar. The one 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.

Bas-relief of the virgin pointing to the source of the spring

Bas-relief of the virgin pointing to the source of the spring

All around, natural and artificial forms merge together in a representation of rocks and petrified vegetation that run along the foundation of the palace and around the borders of a large semicircular basin that represents the sea.

Two of the Four Seasons

Two of the Four Seasons

Every day some eighty million liters of water flow over artificial rocks 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.

Coat-of-arms of Pope Clement XII

Coat-of-arms of Pope Clement XII

Here are some facts and trivia regarding the Trevi Fountain:

  • The largestBaroque fountain in the city, the fountain stands 26.3 m. (86 ft.) high, 49.15 m. (161.3 ft.) wide and occupies more than half the square.
  • Salvi, before he died in 1751 with his work half finished, made sure a stubborn barber’s unsightly sign would not spoil the ensemble, hiding it behind a sculpted vase, called by Romans theasso di coppe, the “Ace of Cups.”
  • The majority of the fountain was made fromTravertine stone, quarried near Tivoli, about 35 kms. (22 mi.) east of Rome.
  • In 1973, Italian National Postal Service dedicated a postage stamp to Trevi Fountain.
  • In 1998, the fountain was refurbished; the stonework was scrubbed, all cracks and other areas of deterioration were repaired by skilled artisans, and the fountain was equipped with recirculating pumps.
  • In January 2013, it was announced that Fendi, the Italian fashion company, would sponsor a 20-month, 2.2-million-euro restoration of the fountain, the most thorough restoration in the fountain’s history. Restoration work, including the installation of more than 100 LED lights to improve the nighttime illumination of the fountain, began in June 2014 and, on the evening of November 3, 2015, the fountain was reopened with an official ceremony.
  • There is a curious tradition regarding the Trevi Fountain. It is said that if you throw a coin over your shoulder into the water, you will be sure to return to Rome. Coins are purportedly meant to be thrown using the right hand over the left shoulder (or your left hand over your right shoulder), with your back to the fountain. While you’re tossing the coin, you’re not allowed to look behind you but the fountain is so large it’s basically impossible to miss.
Trevi Fountain scene at La Dolce Vita

Trevi Fountain scene at La Dolce Vita

  • The fountain has appeared in several notable films, including Federico Fellini‘s renowned 1960 Italian film La Dolce Vita.  The scene, on a quiet night in an almost unreal Rome (actually shot over a week in winter), features an alluring Anita Ekberg jumping into the Trevi Fountain, with her clothes on, and invites Marcello Mastroianni to join her. The coin tossing tradition was also the theme of 1954’s Three Coins in the Fountain and the Academy Award-winning song by that name which introduced the picture.
Three Coins in a Fountain

Trevi Fountain scene in the movie Three Coins in a Fountain

  • An estimated 3,000 Euros are thrown into the fountain each day. The money has been used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome’s needy.
  • It is illegal to steal coins from the Trevi Fountain. Still, there are regular attempts to steal coins from the fountain.
Grace, Jandy, the author and Cheska at Trevi Fountain

Grace, Jandy, the author and Cheska at Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain: Piazza di Trevi, Trevi district, 00187 RomeItaly

Fountain of the Four Rivers (Rome, Italy)

Fountain of the Four Rivers

Fountain of the Four Rivers

The Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi), triumphantly and theatrically unveiled to the Roman populace on June 12, 1651, is Rome’s greatest achievement in this genre and the epitome of Baroque theatricality.

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

The author (right) and son Jandy at Piazza Navona

The author (right) and son Jandy at Piazza Navona

This fountain, which can be strolled around, was built on Piazza Navona, the site of the Stadium of Domitian, built in 1st century AD. It was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for Pope Innocent X (reigned 1644-1655).  The pope’s family palace, the Palazzo Pamphili, faced onto the piazza as did the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone of which Innocent was the sponsor.

Palazzo Pamphili

Palazzo Pamphili

Bernini‘s design was influenced by the design of the Monument of the Four Moors (Monumento dei Quattro mori). It may have also been influenced by a fountain in Marino, Lazio which was constructed to commemorate the defeat of the Ottomans at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.

The obelisk

The obelisk

The base of the fountain is a basin whose center has a slender, ancient Egyptian obelisk, brought in pieces from the Circus of Maxentius to Rome by the Emperor Caracalla. It was built for the Roman Serapeum in AD 81 but had been buried for a long time at Capo di Bove.

Pamphili family emblem

Pamphili family emblem

Beneath it are four semi-prostrate giant nudes of river gods, all in awe of the central tower surmounted with the Pamphili family emblem of a dove with an olive twig, symbol of Papal power and the Holy Spirit. The river gods depict the four major rivers of the four continents, (whose rivers feed the ocean, represented by the large pool) as then recognized by the Renaissance geographers, through which papal authority had spread.

The river gods

The river gods

Supported on the base by a jagged and pierced mountainous disorder of  travertine marble rocks, the marble giants are arranged at the center of a scene of carved grottoes and decorated with flowers, exotic plants and 7 animals (a horse, a sea monster, a serpent, a dolphin, a crocodile, a lion and a dragon) that further carry forth identification.

Lion

Lion

Sea monster

Sea monster

Each carries a certain number of allegories and metaphors with it. The Nile, representing Africa, has a head draped with a loose piece of cloth, meaning that no one, at that time, knew exactly where the Nile’s source was.  Symbolically, this also refers to what the Catholic world saw as the dark ignorance of the “pagan” world: the sculpture has not seen the light of Christianity

Statue of the Nile River

Statue of the Nile River

The apathetic Ganges river god, representing Asia, carries a long oar, representing the river’s navigability, and looks away from the light of the Church, representing the spiritual ignorance of this hedonistic land.

Statue of the Ganges

Statue of the Ganges

The Danube, representing Europe, touches the Pope’s personal coat of arms, since it is the large river closest to Rome.  The most “civilized” and cultured of the figures, the Danube looks toward and embraces the light of the lord.

Statue of the Danube

Statue of the Danube

The Río de la Plata (the word plata means “silver” in Spanish), representing America, sits on a pile of coins, a symbol of the riches America could offer to Europe. The Río de la Plata also looks scared by a snake, showing rich men’s fear that their money could be stolen. Although he throws his hands back in surprise, this representative of the newly converted lands has begun to see the light.

Statue of the Rio de la Plata

Statue of the Rio de la Plata

There are a number of urban legends regarding the fountain, nasty rumors fed by the famous rivalry between the Bermini and Borromini, designer of the church of Sant’Agnese right in front of the fountain.  Borromini lost the fountain commission to Bermini. Many tour-guides, would tell you that Bernini positioned the cowering sculpture of the Rio de la Plata River as if it feared the facade of the church could possibly crumble against him; that the statue of the Nile covered its head so as not to have to see the church; and that the statue of Sant’Agnese on the facade of the church, with her hand on her chest, seems to reassure the Rio de la Plata of the church’s stability. However, the truth is the fountain was completed several years before Borromini began work on the church.

Church of Sant' Agnese

Church of Sant’ Agnese

Today, this revolutionary and grandiose monument to the power and glory of the pope and his family and dynamic fusion of architecture and sculpture, with its highly dramatic, evocative, and individualized figures, dramatically spurting water and a wealth of surprising and charming sculptural details, continues to amaze and entertain visitors to Rome.

Fontana del Moro

Fontana del Moro

Statue o the Moor

Statue of the Moor

One of our Tritons

One of four Tritons

Piazza Navona has two other fountains – the Fontana del Moro, at the southern end, and the Fountain of Neptune at the northern end. The Fontana del Moro has a basin and four Tritons sculpted by Giacomo della Porta in 1575.  In 1673, Bernini added a statue of a Moor,  standing on a conch shell, wrestling with a dolphin.

Fountain of Neptune

Fountain of Neptune

The Fountain of Neptune was also created by Giacomo della Porta in1574.  In1878, the statue of Neptune, by Antonio Della Bitta, was added in to create a balance with La Fontana del Moro.

Museo di Roma

Museo di Roma

Other buildings within the piazza include the Museo di Roma, housed in the large Neoclassical Palazzo Braschi, covering the history of the city in the period from the Middle Ages through the nineteenth century; and the Church of Nostra Signora del Sacro Cuore (Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, also known as the Church of San Giacomo degli Spagnoli), the national church of the Spanish community in Rome.

Church of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart

Church of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart

Fountain of the Four Rivers: Piazza Navona, Boccadellaverità, Rome, Italy.