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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.
Forget gory shows and gladiatorial combat. In the late Middle Ages, Rome's Colosseum was a huge condominium, says the latest archaeological investigation into Rome's most iconic monument.
Archaeologists from Roma Tre University and students from the American University of Rome unearthed evidence showing that ordinary Romans lived within the Colosseum from the ninth century until at least 1349, when the building was seriously damaged by an earthquake.
During a three-week excavation beneath some of the arched entrances that lead into the arena, the archaeologists discovered terracotta sewage pipes, potsherds and the foundations of a 12th-century wall that once enclosed one of the properties.
"This excavation has allowed us to identify an entire housing lot from the late medieval period," Rossella Rea, the director of the Colosseum, said.
The unusual medieval condo also included stables and workshops. Square feet inside the Colosseum were rented out as areas of housing by friars of the nearby Santa Maria Nova convent, who had taken control of the monument.
All houses and workshops opened onto the central arena where gladiators once fought.
"Indeed, that area was used as a common space," Riccardo Santangeli Valenzani, professor of medieval archaeology at Roma Tre University and the director of the dig, said.
Acting as huge courtyard, the arena buzzled with people, animals and goods. There, the archaeologists found cooking pottery and an intriguing object: a figurine of a tiny monkey carved in ivory. Most likely, it was used as a pawn in a chess game.
An iconic symbol of imperial Rome, the Colosseum was built in A.D. 72 by the Flavian emperor Vespasian on the marshy bed of a drained lake.
Seating up to 50,000 spectators, the amphitheater was opened in A.D. 80 by Vespasian's son Titus with a festival that lasted 100 days and included gladiatorial combats, fights with wild beasts and naval battles, for which the arena was flooded.
Over the centuries, the Colosseum has survived three major earthquakes and disastrous fire. After the emperor Honorius prohibited the bloody gladiatorial combats in 404, the building fell into disuse and decay.
It was known that medieval Romans used it as a garbage dump and a stone quarry for the construction of such buildings as Saint Peter's Basilica.
The recent excavation has revealed another piece of the monument's history. And more has yet to be discovered.
"The dig will continue next year," Rea said.
Today the Colosseum is Italy's most visited monument, attracting nearly six million visitors a year.
It is currently undergoing a $34 million cleaning and restoration project, with the cost paid for by shoe and leather bag company Tod's. The first phase of the cleaning is scheduled to be completed on July 7, with the project expected to be finished in March 2016.