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Rome’s beautifully sculpted fountains offer refreshing visits

Bernini's Four Rivers Fountain in Rome's Piazza Navona symbolizes the four continents where Christianity was spreading in the 17th century.


By SCOTT WYLAND | Stars and Stripes | Published: July 18, 2019

Fountains in Rome are almost as plentiful as cathedrals. You don’t have to walk far to bump into one, whether it’s at the Vatican, Spanish Steps or Pantheon.

Many of Rome’s age-old fountains were built to provide clean drinking water to the public, improve the city’s aesthetics and serve as religious monuments.

Although Romans routinely washed in them before the advent of indoor plumbing, jumping into a fountain now can get you fined 450 euros ($510).

Here are five beautifully sculpted fountains — besides the famous, often crowded Trevi — that are worth a visit 24 hours a day.


Four Rivers Fountain

Four river gods envelop the base of a towering obelisk in the Piazza Navona, a former Roman arena that was transformed into a public square during the Renaissance. Designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1651, the Baroque fountain’s rivers symbolize Christianity flowing into four continents.

The Danube, crowned with a wreath, embodies Europe. The Nile, which represents Africa, has a cloth over its head to illustrate the river’s unknown source at the time. The Ganges clasps an oar to suggest it’s navigable. The Rio de la Plata sits on a pile of coins to depict the Americas’ untapped riches.

The artistry was unprecedented for a public fountain, and it remains a marvel.


Fontana dell’Acqua Paola

This fountain with its giant, ornate facade was built in 1612 as a decorative end point to a Roman aqueduct that Pope Paul V restored to supply clean drinking water west of the Tiber River. The pope got the idea for the grand facade from the Fountain of Moses.

Paul’s fountain, with its five water flows, became the basic model for the Trevi Fountain.

It is featured in the opening scene of the Oscar-winning Italian film “The Great Beauty.” It stands on Janiculum Hill, which offers panoramic views of Rome.


Turtle Fountain

The fountain, featuring four male figures grasping at turtles in an overhead basin, was a sensation when it was completed in the late 1580s. However, the figures originally clasped dolphins.

Weak water flow from an aqueduct prompted authorities to remove the dolphins so the fountain would spout instead of trickle. Turtles were added in the 1650s to give the statues something to clutch. Bernini was one of the artists believed to have sculpted the turtles.

In the U.S., copies of the fountain can be found in San Francisco; Bloomfield Hills, Mich.; Sarasota, Fla.; and Newport, R.I.


Triton Fountain

A half-man, half-fish god known as Triton kneels on four entwined dolphins and holds to his lips a conch that he blows to stir up or calm the sea.

Water spurts from the shell and cascades to a pool surrounding the statue in the Piazza Barberini, near the National Gallery of Ancient Art.

It’s another Bernini masterwork. He made it for Pope Urban VIII around 1642, sculpting one of Rome’s first artistic fountains in an open urban setting.

Originally, water gushed higher and it stood among short buildings, creating a dramatic effect. But even now, it looks like a force of nature.


Fountain of Moses

Pope Sixtus V had this fountain built in the 1580s as a terminus for an aqueduct he’d restored.

The tall facade has three alcoves. One contains a statue of Moses and two have biblical scenes engraved in bas-relief — each positioned above a mini waterfall. Several lion sculptures squirt water from their mouths.

No plaza surrounds the fountain. Only a sidewalk separates it from a busy street, making it a bit tricky to shoot photos.

On a sweltering day, a group of nuns stopped at the fountain. Their reverent visit soon turned into a water fight. I was splashed with stray water.

The perpetrator, a young nun with a mischievous smile, said, “Feels good, huh?”

In the 98-degree heat, I had to admit it was a godsend.

Twitter: @wylandstripes

Bernini's Four Rivers Fountain features larger-than-life figures representing the four continents where Christianity was spreading in the 1600s.

The Fontana dell'Acqua Paola, also known as "the big fountain," was built by Pope Paul V as an end point for a restored Roman aqueduct. Its towering, decorative facade and five water flows became the basic model for the Trevi Fountain.

Fontana delle Tartarughe or Turtle Fountain has stood in the Piazza Mattei since it was sculpted in the 1580s.

Bernini's Triton Fountain in Rome's Piazza Barberini still looks imposing, even amid modern buildings and a busy boulevard nearby.

Statue of Moses at the fountain that bears his name. The fountain is also known as Fontana dell'Acqua Felice and stands at a busy intersection in central Rome.

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