In a new series for the blog, author Mario Erasmo takes you on a walking tour of Rome – exploring the famous sites and little-known gems the Eternal City has to offer. Today, we hear about the latest restoration work on the Trevi Fountain, and a short extract from his book, Strolling through Rome…
The snowfall in 2012 that shut down the city and gave Romans their first sight of snow in a generation caused damage to the iconic Trevi Fountain (Tour 8). Restoration work is allowing visitors a rare chance to walk above the empty basin and get a close look at the central figure of Oceanus. When the Tritons and Hippocamps emerge from the scaffolding, visitors will again toss a coin over their shoulder to ensure a return trip to Rome. Stroll on!
Extract from Strolling through Rome: The Definitive Walking Guide to the Eternal City
by Mario Erasmo
Piazza Navona, Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain
Exit the piazza by Via di Pietra (to your left facing the Temple of Hadrian) and continue to Via del Corso. Cross to the other side of the street to Via delle Muratte and proceed into Piazza di Trevi. Look to your right as you cross Via di S. Maria in Via for a view of the Galleria Sciarra with Art Nouveau frescoes in the courtyard that depict personifications of feminine virtues. To your left at No. 78 is a plaque that commemorates where composer Gaetano Donizetti lived.
The world famous Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi) is named after Piazza di Trevi that receives its name because of its location at the intersection of three streets (tre vie) that also gives the Rione Trevi its name. The fountain is the terminus point of the Acqua Vergine (the ancient Aqua Virgo) established by Marcus Agrippa in 19 BCE and restored by Pope Nicholas V in 1453. The theatrical and dynamic design of the fountain calls attention away from the low water flow, but the sunken design also contributes to the illusion of a dramatic water flow. It is the most recent of Rome’s monumental fountains but also the most famous and visited by tourists who toss a coin over their shoulder into the fountain for a return trip to Rome. Anita Ekberg splashing in the fountain in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960) is one of cinema’s most iconic scenes.
The fountain was built against the wall of Palazzo Poli by Nicola Salvi who did not win the competition for its design (he came in second) organised by Pope Clement XII Corsini in 1730 to replace a 15th-century fountain by Leon Battista Alberti, but he was selected after an outcry accompanied the selection of the winner Alessandro Galilei because he was from Florence instead of Rome. Galilei was a member of the same family as Galileo Galilei and designed the facades of S.
Giovanni in Laterano (Tour 13) and S. Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini (Tour 3). Salvi began work in 1732 but the fountain was completed after his death by Giuseppe Panini (also Pannini) in 1762. The Neoclassical triumphal arch design forms the backdrop and the source of spectacle (mostra) entertainment. Earlier designs for the fountain were made by Bernini, Pietro da Cortona and Ferdinando Fuga. The absence of a formal approach to the fountain enhances its theatrical engagement with spectators who chance upon it.
The decoration on the arch, whose Corinthian columns continue the pilasters of the palace’s facade, commemorates the founding of the fountain and the aqueduct. The far right pilaster is broken to symbolise the synthesis of nature and civilisation. Below the crest with the Corsini family emblem that is flanked by allegorical figures of Fama (Fame), are the Four Seasons (1735). The two reliefs by Giovanni Battista Grossi depict Marcus Agrippa surveying plans and Trivia pointing out the source of the Aqua Virgo to Roman soldiers above the niches with the allegorical figures of Abundance (left) and Health (right) by Filippo della Valle. Pietro Bracci carved the figure of Oceanus in the central niche (1759–1762) who presides over Hippocamps (marine horses) representing the calm and agitated nature of the sea being led by Tritons in the basin on top of an immense artificial rock from which water pours into the monumental basin. The obelisk now at the top of the Spanish Steps in Piazza della Trinità dei Monti was considered for the basin.
In Piazza di Trevi, the building across from the fountain at No. 93 has a medieval portico with spoliated ancient columns. The church of Ss. Vincenzo ed Anastasio by Martino Longhi the Younger (1640–1646) contains a collection of praecordia (hearts and lungs) of popes from Sixtus V (d. 1590) to Pope Leo XIII (d. 1903). On the right side of the church is the Vicolo de’ Modelli where boys sollicited artists and others for patronage.
On the right hand side of the fountain is Via della Stamperia. The Calcografia Nazionale at No. 6 is a Neoclassical palazzetto designed by Giuseppe Valadier (1837) and contains the most extensive collection of copper plate engravings in the world, many of which were printed in Palazzo della Stamperia after which the street is named. Opposite, at No. 77 Piazza dell’Accademia di S. Luca, is the 16th-/17th-century Palazzo Carpegna enlarged by Borromini. It is the home of the Accademia Nazionale di S. Luca. The academy of painters whose patron saint was St Luke, and which comprised Italians and artists visiting and working in Rome, was founded in 1577 in a building that was adjacent to the church of Ss. Luca e Martina (Tour 5) and which contains works of art donated by its members displayed in the Galleria dell’Accademia Nazionale di S. Luca. The ‘skull’ of Raphael was displayed here until 1833 when Raphael’s tomb in the Pantheon was opened and his body was found to be intact.
Mario Erasmo is Professor of Classics at the University of Georgia. He specialises in the Legacy of Classical Antiquity and leads art and garden tours in Europe retracing the travels of the Grand Tour. He is the author of Death: Antiquity and its Legacy (I.B.Tauris) and Reading Death in Ancient Rome.