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.
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from Apple App Store or Google Play Store to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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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 & Fontana delle Naiadi (Republic Square & Fountain of the Naiads)
  • Quattro Fontane (The Four Fountains)
  • Piazza Barberini & Fontana del Tritone (Barberini Square & Triton Fountain)
  • Piazza di Spagna & Fontana della Barcaccia (Spanish Square & Fountain of the Longboat)
  • Piazza di Trevi & Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Square & Trevi Fountain)
  • Piazza Colonna & Colonna di Marco Aurelio (Column Square & Column of Marcus Aurelius)
  • Piazza della Rotonda & Fontana del Pantheon (Rotunda Square & Fountain of the Pantheon)
  • Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune)
  • Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Four Rivers Fountain)
  • Fontana del Moro (Fountain of the Moor)
  • Piazza Navona (Navona Square)
Piazza della Repubblica & Fontana delle Naiadi (Republic Square & Fountain of the Naiads)

1) Piazza della Repubblica & Fontana delle Naiadi (Republic Square & Fountain of the Naiads)

Atop the Viminal Hill, the smallest among Rome's Seven Hills, lies the charming Republic Square. This semicircular piazza occupies the space that was once the exedra of the Baths of Diocletian, and the surrounding porticos were constructed between 1887 and 1898 by Gaetano Koch as a homage to the ancient structures that once adorned this site.

An exceptional attraction within the square is the St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs, a church built inside the ruins of the frigidarium of the Roman Baths of Diocletian. Within this small basilica, visitors can discover a Meridian Line, commissioned by Pope Clement XI in 1702 and created by Francesco Bianchini. This line served as a means to verify the accuracy of the Gregorian Calendar and predict the exact dates of Easter for future centuries, as Easter is celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the Spring Equinox.

At the center of the square stands the captivating Fountain of the Naiads. The focal point of the fountain is Glaucus, a mortal fisherman transformed into a sea god, depicted wrestling a dolphin that spouts a powerful jet of water, symbolizing humanity's triumph over natural forces. Surrounding Glaucus are four naiads, water nymphs each representing different water sources. These include the Naiad of the Oceans riding a horse symbolizing waves, the Naiad of the Rivers riding a river monster, the Naiad of the Lakes holding a swan, and the Naiad of the Underground Waters riding a dragon.

The sculptural ensemble was created by Mario Rutelli, a Sicilian artist who, interestingly, was also the grandfather of Rome's former mayor, Francesco Rutelli. When unveiled to the public in 1901, the naiads' nudity and seductive poses caused a sensation, as they stood completely naked, drenched by water flowing from a large nozzle behind them, shimmering in the sunlight with provocative allure.
Quattro Fontane (The Four Fountains)

2) Quattro Fontane (The Four Fountains)

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" proudly showcases four late Renaissance fountains, commissioned by Pope Sixtus V between 1588 and 1593. The quartet of represents the Tiber River, symbolizing Rome; the Arno River, symbolizing Florence; the Goddess Juno, symbolizing strength; and the Goddess Diana, symbolizing chastity.

Domenico Fontana is credited with the creation of the fountains depicting the two rivers and Juno, while Pietro da Cortona sculpted the statue of Diana. Adjacent to these captivating fountains stands the Baroque-style Church of St. Charles (San Carlino alle Quattro Fontane) designed by the renowned Francesco Borromini.

A comprehensive interpretation of the fountains' statues aligns them with Bernini's Four Rivers Fountain (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi). In this theory, each statue represents a nymph or river god symbolizing a generic river from one of the four known parts of the world during that time. This notion finds further support in the alignment of the statues with the four cardinal points, adding a conceptual depth to the symbolism they embody.
Piazza Barberini & Fontana del Tritone (Barberini Square & Triton Fountain)

3) Piazza Barberini & Fontana del Tritone (Barberini Square & Triton Fountain)

Piazza Barberini takes its name from one of Rome's most powerful Renaissance-era families, who claimed the square as part of their residential palace from 1625 onwards (the palace now houses the National Gallery of Ancient Art). Notably, one of the Barberini sons later ascended to become Pope Urban VIII, known for his controversial persecution of Galileo Galilei, the inventor of the telescope and advocate of the heliocentric model.

Despite this historical context, Pope Urban VIII had an ambition to embellish Rome with several fountains. In 1642, he entrusted Gian Lorenzo Bernini with the task of designing and constructing the fountain located in Barberini Square, now counted among Bernini's masterpieces. Bernini closely adhered to the Pope's instructions, drawing inspiration from a passage in Book I of Ovid's renowned work, "Metamorphoses." The passage described Triton, a mythical sea god, commanding the waters to recede after the Deluge, ushering in a sense of order and peace.

Crafted from travertine, a type of limestone formed by hot springs, the fountain portrays the majestic Triton as a merman, kneeling atop the tails of four dolphins. He holds a conch shell to his lips, as if playing it like a trumpet.

The central base of the fountain features four intertwined dolphins, encircling the Papal Tiara and crossed keys, while below, the Barberini family's heraldic symbol of bees can be observed.

This fountain stands out as the first freestanding thematic fountain to be sculpted outside of private gardens. During that time, public fountains were typically plain and unremarkable. However, Pope Urban VIII desired something more striking outside his family's residence. The Triton Fountain immediately imparted a sense of grandeur to the entire square, serving as a beacon for those approaching from the city center.
Piazza di Spagna & Fontana della Barcaccia (Spanish Square & Fountain of the Longboat)

4) Piazza di Spagna & Fontana della Barcaccia (Spanish Square & Fountain of the Longboat)

The Spanish Square, adorned with the Spanish Steps leading up to the Trinity on the Mounts ("Trinità dei Monti") church, stands as one of Rome's most frequented squares. While tourists often gather on the renowned staircase to relax and admire the surroundings, the area has become synonymous with high fashion and luxury, courtesy of the designer shops lining the adjacent streets.

Within this bustling square, you'll also discover the impressive Fontana della Barcaccia, known as the "Fountain of the Longboat." Created in the 1620s by Pietro Bernini, a renowned sculptor and a trusted collaborator of Pope Urban VIII, this masterpiece is attributed to both Bernini and his son, Gian Lorenzo. Pietro Bernini's expertise can also be seen in the Neptune Fountain in Naples and various statues adorning churches throughout Italy.

The fountain's design draws inspiration from a historical event. During the 15th and 16th centuries, the River Tiber frequently flooded the area, and legend has it that one particularly devastating flood left the Spanish Square submerged for several weeks. As the waters receded, a boat was discovered in the square, serving as the muse for Bernini's fountain. The sculpture depicts a partially submerged boat within its basin, with water spilling over the bow and trickling out of the sides.

Many people enjoy sitting on the nearby benches, basking in the sun while listening to the soothing gurgle of the fountain. Due to low water pressure in the area, the water flows gently rather than in a forceful jet, and fortunately, no one has ever considered adding a pump to alter its natural charm. It is said that the renowned English poet John Keats, who resided nearby until his death in 1821, listened to the sound of water from his deathbed. Upon which, he requested the inscription "Here lies one whose name was writ in water" on his tombstone.
Piazza di Trevi & Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Square & Trevi Fountain)

5) Piazza di Trevi & Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Square & Trevi Fountain) (must see)

A visit to Rome would be incomplete without witnessing the magnificent marble masterpiece of the Trevi Fountain. Throughout the day, the small Piazza di Trevi is bustling with crowds of visitors eager to behold this iconic attraction. Interestingly, a quick glance may lead one to believe that the fountain was constructed at the heart of the city, but in reality, it was the city that developed around the fountain.

Designed by architect Nicola Salvi in the 18th century, the fountain took an impressive 30 years to complete. Unfortunately, Salvi passed away midway through the project, never witnessing its full realization. One notable aspect of this fountain, among many others, is the striking contrast between its grandeur and the narrow alleyways and tiny squares that surround it. This intentional contrast serves to further impress visitors who are left in awe of such beauty.

The focal point of the Trevi Fountain ensemble is the statue of Oceanus riding in a chariot shaped like an oyster shell, pulled by two horses and guided by Tritons. One horse remains calm while the other prances, symbolizing the contrasting nature of the sea. On one side of Oceanus stands the statue of Abundance holding an urn, while on the other side, Salubrity holds a cup for a snake to drink from. Above the statues, a bas-relief depicts the legend of a young virgin who led Roman technicians to the water source feeding the aqueduct.

Every day, a considerable sum of money (approximately €3,000 worth of coins) is thrown into the Trevi Fountain for good luck. If you wish to partake in this tradition and have spare change, stand with your back to the fountain and toss a coin over your left shoulder with your right hand. The police ensure that this money is not taken by anyone and it is collected by municipal authorities for charitable purposes.

The surrounding piazza is also home to charming shops, souvenir stalls, delightful restaurants offering pizza and pasta, and enticing ice cream parlors. It is a lovely place to spend some time, immersing yourself in the ambiance of the area.

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 holds particular allure at night, especially after 10pm when it is beautifully illuminated and the crowds dissipate, allowing you to enjoy the site almost exclusively.
Piazza Colonna & Colonna di Marco Aurelio (Column Square & Column of Marcus Aurelius)

6) Piazza Colonna & Colonna di Marco Aurelio (Column Square & Column of Marcus Aurelius)

Part of the historic heart of Rome, the Column Square derives its name from the colossal 30-meter marble column of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Constructed in the Doric style and adorned with intricate carvings, it was erected in the 2nd century AD following Marcus Aurelius' death. However, during a 16th-century restoration, Pope Sixtus V ordered the placement of a statue of St. Paul atop the column. The motive behind this decision remains a mystery. It is uncertain whether it was to eradicate any remnants of paganism or to mirror Trajan's Column nearby (on Via dei Fori Imperiali), where the same pope had a statue of St. Peter installed.

If you possess a long-lens camera or binoculars, be sure to examine the reliefs near the top of the column, as they are in superior condition compared to those at ground level. Notably, you will encounter intriguing depictions of a supernatural figure summoning a miraculous storm that once saved the Roman army during a battle.

While the column undoubtedly commands attention, the square also houses a small fountain that was originally constructed in the 16th century to provide clean drinking water to the residents of Rome. Fashioned from pink marble sourced from the Greek island of Chios, it features an oval basin adorned with 16 intricately carved white marble lion heads. At each end of the basin, two 19th-century groups of dolphins entwine their tails around seashells, spouting water from their mouths.

The square is enclosed on three sides by imposing buildings erected between the 16th and 19th centuries. One such structure is the Chigi Palace, built in 1562 and currently serving as the official residence of the Italian Prime Minister. Another notable building is the Wedekind Palace, constructed in the 17th century on the site once occupied by the Temple of Marcus Aurelius. The magnificent columns adorning the palace's ground floor were acquired from the Etruscan city of Veii, which the Romans conquered in the 4th century BC.
Piazza della Rotonda & Fontana del Pantheon (Rotunda Square & Fountain of the Pantheon)

7) Piazza della Rotonda & Fontana del Pantheon (Rotunda Square & Fountain of the Pantheon)

As with so many of Rome's wonderful squares, upon arriving at the Rotonda Square 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 venture into the monumental ancient Pantheon.

The Pantheon itself needs no introduction, as its fame is recognized worldwide; however, if you're exploring Rome's fountains, you'll find delight in admiring the Fontana del Pantheon, appreciating its artistic merits, and seeking the best angle to observe its intricate details.

Originally built in 1575, the fountain acquired its current appearance in 1711 under the direction of Pope Clement XI. Atop a lofty pedestal, a magnificent 20-foot red marble Egyptian obelisk was placed. This obelisk, brought to Rome from ancient times, was once part of a pair created for the Temple of Ra in Heliopolis (the other obelisk can still be found in the Minerva Square – or Piazza della Minerva – located behind the Pantheon).

In addition to the ancient obelisk, the Baroque-style art adorning the fountain is playful and distinctive. Take note of the whimsical dolphins, adorned with teeth, which were a popular feature of Baroque design during that period. These dolphins possess cartoon-like expressions and even seem to sport eyebrows, adding a touch of charm and humor to the fountain's overall aesthetic.
Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune)

8) Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune)

In Rome, many of the significant fountains were dedicated to mythological water gods and nymphs as a token of gratitude for the arrival of fresh water through the aqueducts. The Fountain of Neptune, situated on the northern end of Navona Square, exemplifies this tradition. The ancient Aqua Virgo Aqueduct was restored in 1453, and by 1570, numerous pipes connected to it supplied water to different parts of the city. The quantity of public fountains in a particular area was determined by the size of its population, and as evidenced by the three fountains within, Navona Square was densely inhabited.

Commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII in 1574, the Fountain of Neptune was created by Giacomo della Porta. The lower basin is crafted from white marble, while the upper basin is made of Pietrasanta marble. When initially constructed, the fountain did not feature any statues, as public fountains of the time were predominantly utilitarian and adorned sculptures were reserved for private gardens. As the 19th century approached, public fountains lost their significance as water suppliers due to the advent of interior plumbing. Nevertheless, they retained their "status symbol" importance, and in 1878, Antonio della Bitta and Gregorio Zappala won a competition to embellish the fountain with statues. Della Bitta sculpted the central piece, depicting Neptune engaged in a battle with an octopus, while Zappala contributed sculptures of the Nereids, cupids, and walruses.
Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Four Rivers Fountain)

9) Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Four Rivers Fountain) (must see)

The focal point of Navona Square, the Four Rivers Fountain has been in place since the 17th century. While Rome has a longstanding affinity for fountains, dating back to antiquity, the Baroque era brought a new dimension to these water features, showcasing the generosity of the papacy. In the case of the Four Rivers Fountain, Pope Innocent X, renowned for his political acumen, entrusted the task to one of the most innovative artists of the time—Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the son of Pietro Bernini and a sculptor and architect in his own right. The result was Rome's pinnacle achievement in fountain design, a symbolic masterpiece brimming with the dynamic and dramatic elements sought after by Baroque artists.

At the base of the fountain lies a basin, and from its center emerge rocks supporting four river gods. Above them, an ancient Egyptian obelisk is crowned with the papal family emblem—a dove holding an olive twig. Collectively, the four gods represent the major rivers of the continents over which papal authority had extended at that time: the Nile symbolizing Africa, the Danube representing Europe, the Ganges representing Asia, and the Rio de la Plata representing the Americas.

The design of each god's figure carries symbolic meaning. The Ganges is depicted holding a long oar, symbolizing the river's navigability. The Nile's head is adorned with a loosely draped piece of cloth, signifying the mystery surrounding the exact source of the river during that era. The Danube touches the papal coat of arms, as it is the largest river near Rome. Finally, the Rio de la Plata sits atop a pile of coins, symbolizing the wealth of the Americas.

To capture the essence of this fountain in photographs, it is recommended to shoot from various angles and positions, so as to get as much detail as possible. With ample space surrounding the fountain, take your time to find the perfect shot—or perhaps even multiple perfect shots. Additionally, the surrounding piazza offers an abundance of restaurants, cafes, and excellent gelato places to indulge in while enjoying the lively atmosphere.
Fontana del Moro (Fountain of the Moor)

10) Fontana del Moro (Fountain of the Moor)

Situated on the southern end of Navona Square, the impressive Fountain of the Moor is one of the three magnificent statues adorning the square. The original fountain, crafted in 1575 by Giacomo della Porta, features Pietrasanta marble, also known as "holy stone" because of its usage in parts of St. Peter's Basilica. While della Porta allowed his students to add four tritons blowing shells and four masks around the basin's border, the fountain lacked a centerpiece, as public fountains during that era were not intended for embellishment.

An amusing anecdote surrounds the history of the fountain: In 1652, Olympia Maidalchini resided in a house overlooking the fountain and found it unsatisfactory, believing it did not match the grandeur she desired. Determined to rectify the situation, she implored her brother-in-law, Pope Innocent X, to take action. The pope provided a small sum of money to Bernini, instructing him to create something worthy of his rather assertive sister-in-law. Allegedly, the modest payment offended the esteemed artist, and he assigned the task to one of his students, who produced three dolphins holding a shell. Both Bernini and "Donna" Olympia were unimpressed with the student's work. Consequently, Olympia voiced her discontent to the Pope, who dug deeper into his coffers, prompting Bernini to produce the exquisite statue of the Moor holding a dolphin. However, Bernini may have gone slightly overboard, as the statue was so large that the basin had to be enlarged to accommodate it.

During a restoration of the fountain in 1874, the original statues were relocated to the Galleria Borghese and replaced with copies. In September 2011, the fountain suffered damage when a vandal attacked it with a hammer. This unfortunate incident occurred on the same night that the Trevi Fountain was also targeted by the vandal.
Piazza Navona (Navona Square)

11) Piazza Navona (Navona Square) (must see)

Piazza Navona has remained one of Rome's most vibrant spots for nearly 2,000 years. Among the city's numerous squares, it truly stands out, boasting exceptional architecture, beautiful sculptures, a plethora of dining and drinking establishments, diverse merchandise for sale, and a colorful crowd.

The square was originally built in 80 AD, around the same period as the Colosseum, and surprisingly served as a venue for chariot races. However, Navona acquired its current shape in the 17th century when Pope Innocent X commissioned the construction of nearby Baroque-style buildings. Noteworthy projects include the Braschi Palace, now home to the Museum of Rome; the renowned Church of Saint Agnes with its impressive dome; the Cupis Palace, which now offers pre-booked accommodations, and the great Pamphili Palace. Moreover, the square boasts not just one or two, but three stunning fountains. On one side stands the Moor Wrestling With a Dolphin, on the other side is the Fountain of Neptune, and at the center stands the Fountain of the Four Rivers, sculpted by Bernini—an extraordinary masterpiece adorned with a grand obelisk.

The atmosphere in Navona Square exudes a cool and relaxed vibe, making it an ideal spot for photography. In the evenings, when the central fountain is illuminated, the square becomes particularly scenic. Visitors may also be treated to performances by talented musicians and artists. Numerous benches provide comfortable seating, and as an added bonus, the surrounding streets are filled with a variety of high-quality eateries and cafes. All of these elements combine to create an inviting environment where one can leisurely pass the time and bask in the pleasure of being in Rome.

Why You Should Visit:
Despite its popularity and bustling nature, Piazza Navona, being a very large square (in fact, an oval), somehow manages to make everyone feel welcome and accommodated.

If looking for more intimate and more economic meals/refreshments, consider venturing onto one of the side streets adjacent to the square.

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