Fountains and Squares Walking Tour, Rome

Fountains and Squares Walking Tour (Self Guided), Rome

In Rome there is a lively piazza round almost every corner, each with its own unique atmosphere and its own story to tell. These public squares have been the center of Roman culture for centuries, and some of the city’s most popular attractions are located within them.

Most piazzas have a fountain in the center and a lot of cafes around. In fact, Rome holds the largest number of fountains in the world (including 50 monumental and hundreds of smaller ones), some of which date back thousands of years.

Rome's love affair with fountains started over two millennia ago, during which time the fountains have provided drinking water to the city via nine specially-built aqueducts and served as decorations for the numerous piazzas. To ensure their fail-safe performance, each of the major fountains was traditionally fed by two different aqueducts, in case one was shut down for service.

Today, fountains are integral part of the Roman cultural setting glorified by cinema – such as the Trevi Fountain in the La Dolce Vita movie. To appreciate the city's most prominent fountains in their splendor and, perhaps, to toss in a coin for good luck, take this self-guided walk!

Getting to Sight #1. The first tour stop (Piazza della Repubblica) is a short walk from Termini Train Station or can be reached directly by Bus: 170, 649, 70, H; Train: FCO, FL2, FL5, Train R; Metro: line A and B, Light Rail: 5; Tram: 5 and 14.
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Fountains and Squares Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Fountains and Squares Walking Tour
Guide Location: Italy » Rome (See other walking tours in Rome)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.1 Km or 2.5 Miles
Author: audrey
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Piazza della Repubblica. Fountain of the Naiads
  • Fountains on Via Delle Quattro Fontane
  • Piazza Barberini. Triton Fountain
  • Piazza di Spagna. Fountain of the Longboat
  • Piazza di Trevi (Trevi Fountain)
  • Piazza Colonna. Column and Fountain
  • Piazza della Rotonda. Fontana del Pantheon
  • Fountain of Neptune
  • Fountain of the Four Rivers
  • Fontana del Moro
  • Piazza Navona
Piazza della Repubblica. Fountain of the Naiads

1) Piazza della Repubblica. Fountain of the Naiads

Viminal Hill is the smallest of Rome’s Seven Hills, and on its summit you will find the charming Republic Square. This semi-circular piazza was built over the exedra of the Baths of Diocletian; the porticos around the square were built between 1887-98 by Gaetano Koch, in memory of the ancient buildings that once stood on this site.

Of particular note is the church Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martin, built inside the ruined frigidarium of the Roman Baths of Diocletian in the Piazza della Repubblica. Inside this small Basilica, you will find a Meridian Line, commissioned by Pope Clement XI in 1702, built by Francesco Bianchini. Its main use was for checking the accuracy of the Gregorian Calendar and as a tool to predict the exact dates of Easter for the next several centuries (Easter falls on the Sunday after the first full moon of the Spring Equinox).

In the center of the square, you can admire the Fountain of the Naiads. The central figure of the fountain is Glaucus, a mortal fisherman-turned sea god, wrestling with a dolphin which spouts a powerful jet of water, thus symbolizing dominance of mankind over natural forces. Surrounding the god, evenly spaced at the edge of the fountain, are four naiads (water-nymphs) representing, respectively, the Naiad of the Oceans riding a horse that represents waves, Naiad of the Rivers riding a river monster, Naiad of the Lakes holding a swan and the Naiad of the Underground Waters riding a dragon.

The sculptural group was created by Mario Rutelli, a Sicilian artist who, incidentally, was also grandfather of Rome's former mayor Francesco Rutelli. The naiads' nudity and languorously provocative poses – totally naked, soaked by the water gushing from a large nozzle at the back, glittering in the sun in very lascivious attitudes – caused a bit of a sensation when first unveiled to the public in 1901.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Fountains on Via Delle Quattro Fontane

2) Fountains on Via Delle Quattro Fontane

They say, good things come in pairs. Well, in the case of Via delle Quattro Fontane, they seem to double that. Just as the name suggests, the “Street of Four Fountains” is a home to four fountains of the late Renaissance, between 1588 and 1593, whose construction was ordered by Pope Sixtus V. The figures of the fab four represent the Tiber River (symbol of Rome), the Arno River (symbol of Florence), the Goddess Juno (symbol of strength) and the Goddess Diana (symbol of chastity).

The fountains of the two rivers and Juno are believed to be created by Domenico Fontana, whereas Diana was the work of Pietro da Cortona. Also located near the fountains is the Baroquesque church, San Carlo delle Quattro Fontane, designed by Francesco Borromini.

A comprehensive theory explaining the meaning of all the four statues within the fountains, finds them equivalent to Bernini's Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi whereat, presented in the form of a nymph or river god, the statues symbolize generic rivers of the four parts of the world known at the time. This opinion is conceptually supported by the fact that there is a broad alignment between the statues and the four cardinal points.
Piazza Barberini. Triton Fountain

3) Piazza Barberini. Triton Fountain

Piazza Barberini gets its name from one of Rome's most powerful Renaissance-era families who, since 1625, took over the square and made it an addition to their residential palace (now housing the National Gallery of Ancient Art). One of the Barberini sons eventually became Pope Urban VIII, famous for his persecution of Galileo Galilei, who invented the telescope and “heretically” claimed the Earth revolves around the Sun.

Nevertheless, the Pope had plans to build several fountains in Rome, and in 1642 Gian Lorenzo Bernini was given patronage over the one standing in this square, now counted among his masterpieces. In building the fountain, Bernini closely followed the instructions of the Pope, who was inspired by a passage in Book I of “Metamorphose” by the famous Roman poet, Ovid. The passage Bernini was asked to put into sculpture describes Triton commanding the waters to retreat after the Deluge, at the same time calling back the world to order and peace.

The fountain was sculpted in travertine – a type of limestone formed by hot springs – and depicts the magnificent Triton as a merman as he kneels on the tails of four dolphins. In his hand is a conch shell that he is raising to his lips like a trumpet.

The four dolphins that form the base in the center of the basin are entwined around the Papal Tiara and crossed keys, below which you can see the Barberini heraldic symbol of bees.

The fountain is unique in that it was the first free-standing thematic fountain to be sculpted outside private gardens. At that time, public fountains were rather plain, unassuming affairs, but Pope Urban VIII wanted something a bit more spectacular outside his family home. The Triton Fountain immediately gave a strong scenic sense to the whole square, becoming a beacon for people coming from the city center.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Piazza di Spagna. Fountain of the Longboat

4) Piazza di Spagna. Fountain of the Longboat

With its Spanish Steps overlooked by the Trinita dei Monte Church, Piazza di Spagna is one of the most visited squares in Rome. While the famous staircase is a favorite spot among tourists to relax and enjoy the views, the area is practically synonymous with high-fashion and luxury, thanks to the many designer shops lying on the surrounding streets.

In this piazza, you will also find one of the most remarkable fountains in Rome, called Fontana della Barcaccia (“Fountain of the Longboat”).

Created in the 1620s, it is the work of Pietro Bernini, the famed sculptor and a go-to man for Pope Urban VIII on many occasions, who also contributed to the creation of the Neptune Fountain in Naples and made statues for numerous churches throughout Italy. Initially collaborating with his son, Gian Lorenzo, the old Bernini was later overshadowed by the young man's talent in marble cutting. In fact, this fountain is often attributed to both Bernini the father and the son.

The design is based upon a real-life event. Back in the 15th-16th centuries the River Tiber regularly flooded the area and a legend has it that one flood was so devastating that Piazza di Spagna remained submerged for several weeks. When the water receded, a boat was found in the square that inspired Bernini in his choice of a subject for the new fountain. The boat is depicted as half sunk in its basin with water spilling over the bows and trickling out of the side of the prow.

Many a people like to sit on the benches, basking in the sun, near the fountain, listening to its gurgle. Because of the low water pressure in the area, the water doesn’t come out in a jet and, luckily, no-one has ever thought of changing that by adding a pump. Famous English poet John Keats, who used to live nearby up until his death in 1821, is said to have heard the sound of water lying in his deathbed, upon which he asked that the words “Here lies one whose name was writ in water” be inscribed on his tombstone.
Piazza di Trevi (Trevi Fountain)

5) Piazza di Trevi (Trevi Fountain) (must see)

No visit to Rome is complete without seeing the marble marvel of the Trevi Fountain, and all year long during the day, the small Piazza di Trevi is crowded with visitors who want to see just that. At a glance, one may think that the fountain was built in the center of the city, whereas the reality is quite opposite, and it is the city that was built around the fountain.

Designed by architect Nicola Salvi in the 18th century, it took 30 years to build. Salvi himself never lived to see it happen, as he died halfway into the project. A peculiar thing about this fountain (one of the many, actually) is the stark contrast between its overwhelming grandeur and the narrowness of the surrounding alleyways and tiny nearby squares. This contrast is intentional and is meant to impress visitors even more, which is something they have no problem with, really, coming face to face with such a beauty.

The main statue in the ensemble is that of Oceanus riding in an oyster-shell chariot pulled by two horses, guided by Tritons. One horse is calm and the other is prancing – which symbolizes the two faces of the sea. On the one side of Oceanus is the statue of Abundance holding an urn, while on the other side is Salubrity holding a cup for a snake to drink from. Above the statues is a bas-relief depicting the legend of a young virgin who led Roman technicians to the source of water that feeds the aqueduct.

Each day, a small fortune (something in the area of €3,000 worth of coins) is thrown into the Trevi fountain for good luck. If you want some for yourself and have some loose change to spare, stand back to the fountain and toss a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder. The police make sure that no one pinches this money, which is then collected and used for charity by municipal authorities.

The fountain is particularly beautiful at night, after 10pm, when it's gorgeously illuminated and has very few people around, so you can virtually have the place to yourself.

The piazza is also home to several little shops and souvenir stalls, lovely restaurants for pizzas/pasta, and tempting ice cream parlors. A nice place to spend some time.

Why You Should Visit:
This marble wonder has to be seen in person to really appreciate its size and beauty.
Great walking distance from Piazza Navona, The Pantheon and, in reality, mostly everything.

The fountain is particularly beautiful at night, after 10pm, when it's gorgeously illuminated and has very few people around, so you can virtually have the place to yourself.
Piazza Colonna. Column and Fountain

6) Piazza Colonna. Column and Fountain

Piazza Colonna is part of the historic heart of Rome, and is named so for the massive 30-meter marble column of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Built in the Doric style and adorned with intricate carvings, this column was erected after the death of Marcus Aurelius in the 2nd century AD; however, during its restoration in the 16th century, Pope Sixtus V ordered a statue of St Paul to be set on top of it. Whether this was done in a bid to remove any lingering trace of paganism or to match it with Trajan’s Column (located nearby on Via dei Fori Imperiali) where the same pope had a statue of St Peter placed on top, remains unknown.

If you have a long lens camera or binoculars, do care to take a closer look at the reliefs near the column's top, as they are in much better shape than those near the ground level. Among the highlights, there are the strange and compelling images of a supernatural figure invoking a miraculous storm that once saved the Roman army during a battle.

While there's no doubt that the column steals all the attention, the square also houses a small fountain originally built in the 16th century to provide Roman residents with clean drinking water. Made of pink marble from the Greek island of Chios, it features 16 carved white marble lion heads around its oval basin. At either end of the basin, two 19th-century groups of dolphins wrap their tails around seashells, spouting water from their mouths.

The square is framed on three sides with the imposing buildings raised between the 16th and 19th centuries. One of them is the Palazzo Chigi, built in 1562, currently the official residence of the Italian Prime Minister. The other one is the 17th century Palazzo Wedekind standing on the site once occupied by the Temple of Marcus Aurelius. The beautiful columns on the ground floor of the palace were taken from the Etruscan city of Veii conquered by the Romans in the 4th century BC.
Piazza della Rotonda. Fontana del Pantheon

7) Piazza della Rotonda. Fontana del Pantheon

As with so many of Rome's wonderful squares, upon arriving at the Piazza della Rotonda you will find a sea of people enjoying themselves: some sitting almost up against the fountain, some kids running around, tourist families orienting themselves and deciding whether to enter the monolithic ancient Pantheon.

The Pantheon is known the world over and needs no further introduction, but if you are exploring Rome's fountains, you will be content to view the Fontana del Pantheon, appreciate its artistic merits and find the best side from which to view its details.

It was built in 1575, but its current appearance dates to 1711, when Pope Clement XI had it topped with a 20-foot red marble Egyptian obelisk brought to Rome in ancient times. Mounted upon a high pedestal, the obelisk was one of a pair originally constructed for the Temple of Ra in Heliopolis (the other one is still in the Piazza della Minerva, round the back of the Pantheon).

Aside from the ancient obelisk, the Baroque art is playful and unusual. Observe the silly dolphins with teeth, which were a very popular Baroque-style feature of the period. They have cartoonish expressions and seemingly eyebrows, too!
Fountain of Neptune

8) Fountain of Neptune

Most of Rome’s important fountains were dedicated to the mythological water gods and nymphs in thanks to the fresh water that arrived in the city via the aqueducts. The Fountain of Neptune on the north end of Piazza Navona is a fine example of this custom. The ancient Aqua Virgo Aqueduct was repaired in 1453 and by 1570 a large number of pipes from it carried water to various parts of the city. The number of public fountains in any area was in consequence to the size of the area’s population and Piazza Navona was a highly populated area, as its three fountains testify.

The Fountain of Neptune was commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII in 1574 and constructed by Giacomo della Porta. The lower basin is made of white marble, the upper basin out of Pietrasanta marble. When it was built, the fountain had no statue as at that time only fountains in private gardens were richly adorned, while the public ones were strictly utilitarian. In the 19th century public fountains lost their importance as fresh water suppliers as interior plumbing became possible. However they remained as a sort of “status symbol” and in 1878 Antonio della Bitta and Gregorio Zappala won a competition to add statues to the fountain. Della Bitta sculpted the centerpiece of Neptune fighting with an octopus and Zappala sculpted the Nereids, cupids and walruses.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Fountain of the Four Rivers

9) Fountain of the Four Rivers (must see)

The centerpiece of Piazza Navona, the Fountain of the Four Rivers has been in place since the 17th century. While Rome’s love affair with fountains, in general, goes back to the antiquity, during the Baroque era it took another twist in which Roman fountains appeared as a reflection of papal generosity. In the case of the Four Rivers Fountain, Pope Innocent X, one of the most politically astute Pontiffs, commissioned to the job one of the most innovative artists of the era – sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the son of Pietro Bernini. The end result proved to be Rome's greatest achievement in the genre of fountain-making, delivering an emblematic piece replete with all the dynamic and dramatic elements sought by Baroque artists.

At the base of the fountain is a basin from the center of which rise the rocks supporting four river gods and, above them, there's an ancient Egyptian obelisk surmounted with the papal family emblem – a dove with an olive twig. Collectively, the four gods represent four major rivers of the four continents over which papal authority had spread by that time, namely: the Nile of Africa, the Danube of Europe, the Ganges of Asia, and the Rio de la Plata of the Americas.

The design of each god's figure is quite symbolic. The Ganges carries a long oar, representing the river's navigability. The Nile's head is draped with a loose piece of cloth, meaning that no one at that time knew exactly where the Nile's source was. The Danube touches the papal coat of arms, since this is the largest of the rivers close to Rome. And the Rio de la Plata sits upon a pile of coins, the symbol of America's riches.

To capture this fountain on picture, one has to shoot repeatedly from different angles and positions, so as to get as much detail as possible.
Fortunately, there is plenty of free space around, so one should really just take their time to get a perfect shot... or two, or three...
The surrounding piazza is full of restaurants/cafes and excellent gelato places can be found.
Fontana del Moro

10) Fontana del Moro

Piazza Navona boasts three fine statues, one of which, on the southern end of the square is the impressive Fontana del Moro. The original fountain was constructed by Giacomo della Porta in 1575, in Pietrasanta marble, called “holy stone” because it was also used in parts of St Peter’s Basilica. Although Della Porta allowed his students to place four tritons blowing on shells and four masks around the border of the basin, there was no centerpiece, as public fountains at that time weren’t meant to be beautified.

There is a rather amusing history surrounding the fountain: In 1652, Olympia Maidalchini lived in a house overlooking the fountain and she wasn’t happy with it, thinking it wasn’t impressive enough to stand outside her house. So she asked her brother-in-law, Pope Innocent X, to do something about it. The pope gave a small amount of money to Bernini and commissioned him to create something worthy of his rather bossy sister-in-law. Apparently, the small amount of money offended the great artist and he gave the job to one of his students, who produced three dolphins holding up a shell. If Bernini was offended by the pitiful payment, “Donna” Olympia was likewise unimpressed by the student’s efforts. She had another moan at the Pope, who dug deeper into his coffers and Bernini produced the beautiful statue of the Moor holding a dolphin. He might have overdone it a bit, because the statue was so big that the basin had to be enlarged. In 1874, during a restoration of the fountain, the original statues were moved to the Galleria Borghese and replaced with copies. In September 2011, the fountain was damaged after a vandal attacked it with a hammer. The vandal also damaged the Trevi Fountain that night.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Piazza Navona

11) Piazza Navona (must see)

Piazza Navona has been one of Rome’s liveliest spots for almost 2,000 years. In the city with no shortage of squares, Navona really stands out. The reasons for that are many: great architecture, lovely sculptures, lots of places around to eat and drink, diverse merchandise to buy and colorful crowd.

The square was built in 80 AD, around the same time as the Colosseum and, surprisingly enough, initially hosted chariot races. Navona took its current shape only in the 17th century when Pope Innocent X commissioned nearby Baroque-style constructions. Among those projects are Palazzo Braschi (now housing the Museum of Rome), the Church of Saint Agnes (renowned for its massive dome), Palazzo de Cupis (now open for pre-booked stays), and Palazzo Pamphili. There are also not just one or two, but three (!) stunning fountains here, including the Moor Wrestling With a Dolphin on the one side, the Fountain of Neptune on the other, and the Fountain of the Four Rivers, sculpted by Bernini, in the center – a truly unique piece of art with a large obelisk on top.

The place has a cool, relaxing vibe and is ideal for picture taking. At night, whenever the central fountain is illuminated, it gets particularly scenic. Occasionally, there are some good musicians and other artists performing here as well. There are many benches to sit on plus, as an extra bonus, the adjoining streets are rich in all sorts of quality eateries and cafes, all of which makes it fairly comfortable to pass the time away and soak up the pleasure of just being in Rome.

Why You Should Visit:
A very large square (really an oval) that despite being busy and very popular, seems to still have room for everyone.

If looking for more intimate and more economic meals/refreshments, you can always walk off the piazza onto one of the side streets.

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