Rome, Piazza di Trevi. The queen of fountains
Rome . The city of squares
If there is a city that can be called the city of squares, this is Rome. Squares are so integral to its image that without them the former capital of the ancient world would not be what we know.
And not by accident. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Rome, from the largest city in the world with huge monumental complexes all over its surface, was transformed into a medieval city that looked more like a large cluster of villages, since within the ancient walls where once 1,5 million people lived, there were no more than ten thousand in the worst times. Among its poor and poorly built districts, there were vast uninhabited areas where the brilliant works of the emperors rose once.
Rome resumes its imperial aspect
In the Renaissance, however, Rome became once again a major cultural centre, thanks to Pope Julius II, who called here the artists who remained unsupported after Florence ’s capture by the French in 1494 and the fall of the Medici.
From then on, especially in the 16th and 17th centuries, Rome has begun to take rapidly the form we know today. The main ingredient being the squares.
In order to connect the scattered districts between them and fill again the empty space among them, these urban ensembles were built, with monumental palaces and magnificent churches around them.
And in the middle, they put the columns of ancient Rome that were still standing, between heaps of soil. Columns made by emperors or brought from Egypt. Only now, instead of emperors, statues of saints were placed on their top.
Below or around the columns, the greatest sculptors of the time made the famous fontane, the countless fountains that remind of ancient Rome of the many aqueducts, which was also full of them.
And as the terrain is uneven (let’s not forget that Rome is built on seven hills), these ensembles are often placed on different levels, connected to each other by monumental stairs.
Thus, the so picturesque and so characteristic image of today’s Rome emerged: an endless series of outdoor theatre scenes where the daily life of the Italian capital unfolds like a theatrical performance in a set of unique richness of forms and colours.
So let’s wander in this wonderful outdoor scenery. From Piazza Colonna (http://culturehikes.com/en/rome-squares-piazza-di-spagna/) we return to Via del Corso and, following Via dei Sabini and Via dei Crociferi, we arrive at the famous Piazza di Trevi.
Piazza di Trevi
In Piazza di Trevi is the famous homonymous fountain, the Fontana di Trevi, the queen among all the Roman fontane. Both for its imposing appearance and for the tradition, according to which anyone who wants to come back to Rome must throw a coin in.
I never threw it, because on my first visit the fountain was out of order for maintenance, and I could not throw a coin, but I came back the following year, so I didn’t think of doing it after that. Since then, I’ve been there six times, so it doesn’t worry me anymore…
Fontana di Trevi, against the façade of Palazzo Poli
The name ‘Fontana di Trevi’ means ‘the fountain of the three roads’ (tre vie). The fountain marks the end of the Aqua Vergine, an ancient Roman aqueduct (Aqua Virgo, the virgin fountain), that supplied water to ancient Rome.
In 19 BC, supposedly with the help of a virgin, Roman technicians located a source of pure water some 13 km from the city (This scene is presented on the present fountain’s façade.)
Aqua Virgo led the water into the Baths of Agrippa and served Rome for at least four centuries. The destruction of the aqueducts by Goths besieging the city in 537-538 gave the final blow to the urban life of ancient Rome. Its inhabitants during the Middle Ages took water from contaminated wells and the equally infected river Tiber.
In 1453 Pope Nicholas V finished the repairs of Aqua Vergine and built a simple basin designed by the famous Renaissance architect Leon Battista Alberti.
In 1730 Pope Clement XII organized a contest in which the Roman Nicola Salvi initially lost to Alessandro Galilei, but due to the outcry over the fact that a Florentine won, Salvi was awarded the commission anyway.
Work began in 1732 and the fountain was completed in 1762, long after Salvi’s death, by Giuseppe Pannini. He substituted the present allegories for planned sculptures of Agrippa and ‘Trivia’, the Roman virgin. Pietro Bracci’s Oceanus (god of all water) was set in the central niche.
Fontana di Trevi
And if you are wondering towards what Fontana di Trevi is turned: the very Baroque façade of the 17th-century church of the Saints Vincent and Anastasius (Santi Vincenzo & Anastasio), where the hearts of 25 popes are kept!
Turning back to Via del Corso and turning on the right to Via del Caravita, we reach the very picturesque Piazza Sant’Ignazio.
Façades of houses in Piazza Sant’Ignazio
Here, beyond the square itself, it’s worthwhile to see the 17th-century Jesuit church of Saint Ignatius. Not so much to see yet another Baroque façade as for the painted ceiling, which is one of the most impressive creations of baroque painting.
It’s the work of Jesuit monk Andrea Pozzo and represents the apotheosis of Saint Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuit order. Around him is depicted a multitude of people and allegories related to the order.
The most impressive part is that, while the ceiling is flat, it’s painted so that it looks like a dome, offering a breathtaking spectacle.
Andrea Pozzo, Allegory of Jesuit missionary activity (1685-1694), [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Next stop: Pantheon. Stay tuned…
About the author
Hello! I am Denis, an architect based in Athens, Greece. I teach history of art and architecture in higher education. That’s one passion of mine. The other one is hiking, in and out of town. If you follow me, I’ll share my discoveries with you.
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