Rome is a city of many fountains, but nothing tops the Trevi Fountain or Fontana di Trevi. Completed in 1762, the statue stands at an impressive 26.3 metres (86 ft) high and 49.15 metres (161.3 ft) wide, making it the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world. It translates as ‘Three Street Fountain’ since it sits at the junction of three roads – ‘tre’ meaning three and ‘via’ meaning street. We’ve seen Swedish bombshell Anita Ekberg frolic about in it, Audrey Hepburn take a swift snooze on it and even Lizzie McGuire toss a coin in it, but how much do you really know about Italy’s most famous fountain? Here are seven interesting facts about the Trevi Fountain you probably didn’t already know.
1. It’s one of the oldest water sources in Rome
The fountain in its current form is pure eighteenth century, but the original fountain dates back to Ancient Rome. Back in 19 B.C. the Aqua Virgo Aqueduct provided water for most of Imperial Rome’s fountains and baths. Aqua Virgo means Virgin Waters – so-called because a young Roman girl allegedly led a group of dying, thirsty soldiers to the only source of spring water in the area. You can see this story depicted on the friezes. The fountain sits at the endpoint of the aqueduct.
Throughout the Middle Ages, public water fountains were purely functional. People would bring buckets to collect water to take home. Leon Battista Alberti designed the first Trevi Fountain in 1453 and for more than a century, it was the only source of fresh water in Rome.
2.The fountain is the result of a competition
Alberti’s fountain did the job for a while, but in 1629 Pope Urban VIII decided Rome needed a more sensational fountain. He asked Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who designed St. Peter’s Basilica, Piazza Navona and Ponte Sant’ Angelo, to sketch out a few ideas but he abandoned the project when the pope died. In 1730, Pope Clement XII revisited the idea again. By this point, competitions had become a popular way to design innovative sculptures and buildings, so the pope organised a contest to redesign the fountain. Alessandro Galilei won the contest, but there was such public outcry over the thought of a Florentine man designing a Roman landmark that the pope commissioned Nicola Salvi instead. Salvi had no previous architectural experience, besides designing a set piece for a firework display in Piazza di Spagna.
Salvi started work in 1732 but died in 1751 before completing it. Giuseppe Pannini completed the work in 1762.
3. The stone should look familiar to you
The Trevi Fountain was crafted from a stone called Travertine, the same porous limestone used to build the Roman Colosseum. The name means, “from the Tiber” and is sourced from the city of Tivoli, 22 miles from Rome.
The stone is made from calcium carbonate formed from hot spring waters. It can be a risky business sourcing it – many were injured and a few men even died building the fountain. It’s a popular material for making sculptures, as well as buildings.
4. The statue in the centre isn’t Neptune
Most people assume the statue’s centrepiece is Neptune, but it’s actually the Greek God, Oceanus. He was a Titan and God of the Sea, who came the generation before the likes of Zeus and Apollo. Unlike Neptune, who holds a trifork and is usually depicted with a dolphin, Oceanus rides a shell that is pulled by two Trion mermen. The Triton to Oceanus’ left represents the sea’s volatility, while the Triton leading the steed symbolizes tranquillity.
5. All of the money collected from it goes to charity
Tourists throw around €3,000 of change into the fountain every day. That means that the fountain collects a staggering €1,000,000 in a single year. According to longstanding legend, if you toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain, it guarantees you’ll return to the Eternal City. Toss one coin in and you’ll be granted a safe return to Rome. Two means you’ll get a safe return and fall in love. Three coins guarantee all of the above, plus a wedding.
Even if you don’t believe in the myth, it’s a happy ending. Every night, the coins are vacuumed up, cleaned and donated to Caritas, a Catholic charity. These donations fund everything from domestic refugee work to international emergency responses.
6. And it’s illegal to steal the coins
With so much cash out in full view, it’s a tempting spot for thieves but it’s now illegal to touch the money in the fountain. It’s also illegal to get into the fountain – even dangling your feet in it will reap a €450 fine.
In 2011, a TV show used a hidden camera to catch out three nighttime raiders. The most famous thief was a man nicknamed d’Artagnan. In 2002, he was caught stealing money from the fountain. For 35 years, he had headed to the fountain, splashing about with special equipment to get hold of the coins. He reportedly cashed in as much as $1,000 for 15 minutes of work.
7. It pumps out a lot of water
Every second, the baroque masterpiece pumps out around 170 litres of water. That’s around 2,823,800 cubic feet of water in a 24 hour period. There’s no waste though since the water is recycled. That does mean that fountain no longer fulfils its original purpose though, to provide fresh drinking water since the recycled water is electrified.
However, Rome is bursting with smaller, ancient water fountains called aqua potabile that provide free and safe water. You only need to avoid the red fountains which usually feature a valve for a hose, instead of a mouth-sized tap.