Stella Bertarione/Giulio Magli
Two penises engraved on a 2,000 year old stone in the city of Aosta in northern Italy.
Patrick Landy/Creative Commons
The Most Beautiful Fountain In the World
May 22, 2012 -
Possibly the most famous, and often called the most beautiful, fountain in the world, Rome's Fontana di Trevi celebrates its 250th birthday today. Built under the patronage of three popes -- Clement XII, Benedict XIV and Clement XIII -- the splendid water display was officially unveiled on May 22, 1762 after 30 troubled years of work. Here's a look at the history of this magnificent meeting place of Rome.
Aqua Virgo Although it was completed in the 18th century, the history of the fountain has its roots in antiquity. It begins in 19 BC, when Roman general Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (64/63-12 BC) built the Aqua Virgo, an underground 13-mile aqueduct to feed Rome's first public baths. Standing 85 feet high and 65 feet wide at the juncture of three roads, the fountain marks the terminal point of the Aqua Virgo.
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Reliefs Coming from a spring in the Alban hills east of Rome, the pure and cold Aqua Virgo (Virgin Water) was so named because a young girl pointed out the the hidden source to Agrippa's military engineers. The story is depicted in two relief carvings above the fountain. The one on the right shows the young girl pointing out the spring to Agrippa and his engineers; the other, on the left, portrays the architects kneeling in front of Agrippa with the plans for the aqueduct. Busy workers building the aqueduct can be seen in the background.
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Two Architects, Ten Sculptors, Dozens of Assistants Before it became a tourist hotspot, Rome's Piazza Trevi housed another fountain, a simple basin designed in 1453 by architect Leon Battista Alberti for Pope Nicholas V. In the mid-17th century Gian Lorenzo Bernini had this fountain destroyed in anticipation of remodeling the piazza and fountain into a grandiose monument. In fact, the work was stalled for nearly a century. Finally, Pope Clement XII sponsored a competition in 1732 for the fountain construction, which was won by architect Nicola Salvi. Construction of the new fountain against the façade of a palace took 30 years, between 1732 and 1762, using two architects (Salvi died when the fountain was half finished) ten sculptors, and dozens of assistants.
Neptune on a Shell A Baroque triumph, the fountain is dominated by a giant figure of the sea god Neptune on a seashell-shaped chariot. This is drawn by two sea horses and two Tritons (half-man, half-fish). One wild, the other tranquil, the horses represent the mood of the sea. Standing in niches, the statues of Abundance to the left, and Salubrity to the right oversee the scene. The water is made to fall over artificial rocks at the fountain travertine base. Emulating nature, the base features grottoes, rocks and carved representations of thirty plant species. This image is of Neptune flanked by the statues of Abundance and Salubrity. His chariot is pulled by two sea horses and Tritons.
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La Dolce Vita Thanks to the 1954 movie "Three Coins in the Fountain" with Clifton Webb and Dorothy McGuire, the fountain became one of the must-see sights of Rome. Swedish actress Anita Ekberg helped spread the fountain's fame when she took a famous moonlight dip there with Marcello Mastroianni in Fellini's 1960 film "La Dolce Vita." When Mastroianni died in 1996, the Trevi was hushed and draped in black as a tribute to his memory.
Throwing Coins Each day, thousands of tourists throw coins over their shoulders into the fountain. According to legend, this is the recipe for a prompt return to Rome. To make the wish come true, one must stand with the back to the fountain and throw the coin in over the left shoulder, using the right hand.
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Fishing Coins There are many cases of people who regularly attempt to fish coins out of the fountain. Trevi's most famous raider, Roberto Cercelletta, known as d'Artagnan, collected coins from the fountain for 34 years until he was caught in 2002.
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Cleaning Up The coins which are splashed daily into the Trevi fountain are regularly collected at night or early morning. The cleaning collects several thousand euros and is turned over to the religious organization Caritas to be used to aid the poor.
Blood Red Water The Trevi Fountain's waters turned blood red in 2007, when Graziano Cecchini, believed to be an artist from the Italian Futurist art movement, threw paint into the basin. The fountain suffered no damage, but the man was placed under investigation for allegedly damaging a historical and artistic building.
Two penises engraved on a 2,000 year old stone may shed light on the foundation of the city of Aosta in northern Italy, revealing its deep connection with the Roman emperor Augustus.
Named Augusta Praetoria Salassorum by the Romans -- who captured it from the local Salassi people in 25 B.C. to control strategic mountain passes -- Aosta boasts several monuments dedicated to Augustus.
"But the newly discovered stone tells even more about Aosta’s connection with the Roman emperor. It reveals the city was built under Augustus’ sign during the winter solstice," Giulio Magli, professor of archaeoastronomy at Milan's Polytechnic University, told Discovery News.
Found covered in mud at a depth of 5 feet during excavation work at one of the town’s towers, the elaborately carved stone is still walled up in its original position on the southeast corner of the monument, known as Balivi Tower.
"Originally, the stone stood in plain view. But in the early Middle Ages the tower was probably flooded and its basis covered by alluvial material," Stella Bertarione, the archaeologist who made the discovery, told Discovery News.
Bertarione works at the Superintendency for cultural heritage and activities of the Aosta Valley autonomous region.
Carved on both sides, the block features two very clear figures on one side -- a phallus and, over it, a spade -- and some partly damaged reliefs on the other. There, a phallus is again represented. Over it, a plough and a partly eroded character which appears to be a Capricorn.
The plough and the spade openly hint to the sulcus primigenius, the original trench plowed to mark the perimeter of a new city in the Roman foundation ceremony. Related to the god Priapus, the phallic effigies most likely had an “apotropaic” function, evoking some sort of protection from evil forces.
"The chunk of mud has certainly preserved the stone from damage and censorship," Bertarione said. "In medieval times the evident phallic figures would have been erased since they were regarded as obscene pagan symbols."
Located on the northeast corner of the Roman walls, the Balivi Tower stands in the highest point of the ancient city. Looking at the carved stone, Bertarione noticed a peculiarity.
"The tips of the two phalli point to southeast, where the sun raises in the winter months," she said.
In the analysis that followed, Magli examined the original urban plan taking into account the complex natural horizon of the Alps in which Aosta’s valley is nested.
The results confirmed Aosta’s orientation to the sun rising on the winter solstice.
"We can estimate that the foundation of Aosta began on Dec. 23. On that day, the sun raises right in the direction pointed by the phalli on the stone," Bertarione said.
At those times, the winter solstice was indeed hosted by the sign of Capricorn. Although Augustus' astrological sign was the Libra -- he was born on Sept. 23 -- he chose the Capricorn as his emblem, possibly because it was the sign of his conception.
"Capricorn clearly fitted much better than Libra with the idea of renewal, traditionally associated with the midwinter sun," Magli said. "It was thus chosen to signify the new golden era of peace and prosperity."
"In this view, Aosta would have been built to reflect Augustus' associations with the 'cosmic' signs of renewal: the winter solstice and the Capricorn," he added.