Wednesday, November 21, 2012

In Search of Fountains

Of course people go to Rome for all kinds of see the Vatican, go through catacombs full of bones (and spiders), visit ancient Roman ruins, and to see sculptures and paintings by some of the world's greatest artists.

Detail of the Four Rivers Fountain
I am here with two friends, Sheila and Ann from New Mexico, who have been on a two week trip through Turkey to see the places St. Paul visited. They've come specifically to see the Vatican and to hear the Pope give his weekly blessing. I came to see fountains.

On Sunday, we rode the tram up Trastevere and caught a bus next to some ancient Roman ruins called Largo di Torre Argentina. This square, about a kilometer from the Roman Forum which was the old center of Rome, contained the Pompey Theater where Julius Caesar was killed. The street level of the ruins is about thirty feet below the current street level. Down there amongst the ruins dozens of cats were lounging around. A group of women known as the gattare, the Cat Ladies, formed a no-kill shelter inside the ruins. Over the last twenty years they have sterilized and then set free, more than 30,000 cats. The ruins make an ironically fitting place for the shelter - two of the four Republican temples, built in the first and third centuries, were sponsored by men from the rich family Catalus!!

Largo de Torre Argentina, the no-kill cat sanctuary

Ann had the address of the best pizza place in Rome, so we hiked around looking for it, but discovered it closed on Sunday. I had a list of fountains I wanted to see, but limited ideas about where they might be found. We stumbled upon Piazza Navona and lo, there were three incredible fountains inside the huge rectangular plaza. Only after we got home did I realize that one of the fountains I'd been looking for, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, the Four Rivers Fountain, had been the magnificent central piece in Piazza Navona! I can't give Rome much credit for signage, there are few signs, and even fewer with English translations.

Four Rivers Fountain by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1651

Fontana del Moro, 1575, with the "Moor" added
by Bernini in 1673
Neptune Fountain, 1574

The map showed the location of the Trevi Fountain, probably the most famous in the world. We traversed narrow streets until we saw signs for McDonalds At Trevi. That world famous restaurant was thankfully not close enough for the Golden Arches to sneak into any photos!

Coming out of the narrow labyrinth of streets, around the corner into the Trevi Plaza, all three of us  audibly gasped. The structure occupies the entire side of a marble building and is filled with sculptures, water pouring from the rocks beneath their feet and around the bodies. The crowds were thicker than any place we'd yet visited. Still, it was not the mob scene it must surely be in summertime. We could easily get down the stairs to the pool where we could see it in full splendor without interfering tourist bodies.

It's not possible to fully appreciate the Trevi without some background on all the fountains of Rome and the history of the Roman Aqueducts. The water comes from springs in the mountains to the north east, about eight miles away and to this day is transported via the Aqua Vergine and the even older Aqua Virgo built in 19 BC. The springs were discovered by Roman engineers with the help of a virgin (hence the name Aqua Virgo) and the theme of the Trevi Fountain is the virgin showing the engineers "the way". The name Trevi comes from the confluence of three roads, tre via. Water came into the city and supplied the population with clean drinking water, and led into the baths of Agrippa, serving the population for more than four centuries. Around 538, the Goths destroyed the aqueducts. For the next 900 years, the surviving population had to get drinking water from polluted wells and the Tiber River which served equally as their sewage system.

There was a Roman custom of building a fountain at the endpoint of an aqueduct. Pope Nicholas V had the old water system repaired and in 1453 created a simple large pool where the Trevi now stands.  All the fountains of Rome are fed by the same waters flowing through the Trevi, and frequently you will find small fountains with a spigot where the locals get drinking water that is pure and healthy.

In 1629, Pope Urban VIII asked Gian Lorenzo Bernini to design a possible renovation of the fountain, but the Pope died before it could be started. Bernini's sketches survived and though the fountain today is not his design, there are many Bernini touches. In 1730, Pope Clement XII organized a contest which was won by Nicola Salvi and the fountain was completed in 1762 even though Salvi himself died in 1751. The central statue of Oceanus, God of all Waters, is the work of Pietro Bracci and the final supervisor/artist was Guiseppe Pannini.

The Trevi Fountain!

Oceanus, God of all Waters

Detail showing the virgin pointing
at the spring.

Detail of woman on the Trevi
Fountain facade

Post Note: In the post that was sent to subscribers, the Moor's fountain and Neptune's fountain were referenced incorrectly. The labels are correct now. Also more photos were added, taken on a sunnier day.