The Trevi Fountain is definitely one of the most iconic – not to mention visited – landmarks in Rome. A massive fountain measuring a whopping 20 meters (almost 66 feet) in width and 26 meters (that’s more than 85 feet) in height, it’s easy to see why people – tourists and locals alike – love it. I certainly never miss an opportunity to take a peak whenever I am in the area – though at times the crowds make me just want to pass by quickly.
Anyways, if it is your first time in Rome you definitely should include it in your itinerary. Which is why I thought about writing this post, sharing all the most interesting facts about the fountain, including its history, and tips that should help you make the most of your visit.
Make sure to read my post The Most Beautiful Fountains In Rome.
How Did The Trevi Fountain Get Its Name?
The Trevi Fountain is situated at the junction of three roads, hence the name – tre (three) vi(e) (roads). It was here that the Acqua Virgine, an important Roman era aqueduct terminated, supplying the ancient – and later medieval – city with water. This same aqueduct still supplies the Trevi Fountain with water, carried from over 10 kilometers away.
The Latin name of the fountain, Trivium, also has a loose meaning of “the intersection between three streets.”
The History Of The Trevi Fountain
Though today it is one of the recognizable landmarks in Rome, the Trevi Fountain has not always been there. It was initially commissioned by Pope Urban VIII in 1629, who asked the renowned sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini to redesign an earlier fountain.
Sadly, this project never came to fruition. Pope Urban VIII died, and Bernini lost his commission, but the architect’s influence on the fountain can be seen to this day.
Now we fast forward to 1730, when Pope Clement XII held a contest to find someone to design the fountain; having such a design contest was a popular thing to do in the Baroque era. The initial winner, however, being from Florence, was cast aside in favor of Nicola Salvi – a Roman architect.
Work began on the fountain in 1732, but it was left half finished when Salvi died in 1751. There were then a string of different sculptors employed to complete the fountain’s decorative sculptures. It was finally finished in 1762 by architect Giuseppi Pannini, and was officially inaugurated by Pope Clement XII on May 22 of the same year.
Restoration Of The Trevi Fountain
Over the years, the Trevi Fountain has suffered wear and tear. Being open to the elements in a big bustling city, smog eventually caused discoloration of the white marble. Both in 1988 and again in 1998, the whole of the fountain’s stonework was scrubbed and any cracks were repaired by expert artisans.
In 2013, Fendi – the Italian fashion label – began their sponsorship of the iconic structure. They paid 2.2 million euros to restore the fountain to its former glory. The work on this most recent renovation was completed in 2015, and included the installation of over 100 LED lights that illuminate the fountain for nighttime viewings.
What To See At The Trevi Fountain, Rome
The first thing you’ll notice about the Trevi Fountain is just how enormous it is. This Baroque masterpiece takes up most of the piazza in which it is located, and makes for a theatrical setting, with seats curving around facing the elaborate carvings of the front of the fountain.
At the center of the fountain is a sculpture of the sea god, Oceanus; he sits in his shell shaped chariot, which is led by a pair of Tritons and sea horses. One of the Tritons looks calm, the other more wild, reflecting the dual moods of the sea itself.
To the left of the Oceanus statue is a niche with another statue, this one of the goddess Abundantia; this statue represents abundance, and water flows from an urn she is carrying. To the right, in another niche, is a sculpture depicting Salubrius, god of good health. He holds a cup from which a snake appears to be drinking.
Forming the backdrop of this gushing display of water is the Palazzo Poli. With its monumental facade, it was here that elaborate parties used to be thrown by the infamous Russian Princess Zinaida Volkonskaya. The facade of the palace was altered to accommodate the fountain, with the addition of towering pilasters. At the very center of the facade is a triumphal arch, which is where Oceanus sits.
The theme of the Trevi Fountain in general is the taming of water. Gods related to water and health are present, as is abundance. There are also bas reliefs that illustrate the history of the Roman aqueducts – the feats of engineering that made this fountain a possibility in the first place. One section shows Agrippa ordering soldiers to build the Aqua Virgo aqueduct, and another shows a young woman pointing out a water source.
Interesting Facts About The Trevi Fountain, Rome
Mystical traditions of the Trevi Fountain
Across one day, around 2,823,800 cubic feet of water is continuously cycled through the fountain. But it’s not just the volume of the water that it’s impressive, it’s also the nature of the water.
It’s said to be high quality water, some of the best in the city in fact, due to it having less calcium carbonate content than other water sources. According to tradition, young women used to make their boyfriends drink from the fountain; they would then smash the cup they used, signifying that he would stay loyal and devoted to them.
Another legend saw newlyweds drinking from a different fountain, just to the right of the Trevi Fountain. They would also smash the cup right after using it, meaning nobody else could use it, and ensuring fidelity in the marriage.
The Trevi Fountain in films
Being such an eye-catching and dramatic fountain, it’s not really surprising that the Trevi Fountain has found its way into many movies over the years. One of the most famous of these is the Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck romantic comedy, Roman Holiday (1953) – this won Hepburn an Academy Award for best actress.
In the following year, it was the centerpiece to another romantic comedy, Three Coins in the Fountain (1954; based on the 1952 novel Coins in the Fountain). In this film, three American women dream of finding romance in the Eternal City. Frank Sinatra also contributed to the film, recording its title track, further adding to the legend of the Trevi Fountain.
The Trevi Fountain went on to appear in the 1960 classic by Federico Fellini, La Dolce Vita, and again – years later – in the 1998 Sabrina Goes to Rome, and then in the 2003 Lizzie McGuire Movie.
Head over to my post The Best Movies About Rome.
Why do people throw coins into the fountain?
Visiting the fountain and seeing its ornate structure is one thing, but most people will also throw a coin (or three) into the basin. Where this tradition comes from, however, is not entirely clear. According to one legend, if you throw a coin into the fountain it will bring you luck, but there is more ancient evidence too.
Some sources say that it is derived from an ancient practice of throwing gifts to the gods and other offerings into sources of water – then considered sacred places.
One story names German archeologist Wolfgang Helbig as the originator of the tradition, whose profession gave him knowledge of the ancient practices of throwing offerings into spring waters. As a social contact for other Germans visiting Rome, he met many guests; on their farewells, he would take them to the fountain to toss coins for good fortune.
However, the fact that coin tossing didn’t become popularized until the 1954 movie Three Coins in the Fountain indicates that it was the film – not an earlier legend or a German socialite – that inspires people to try their luck to this day.
If you do visit and want to throw a coin in the fountain, you should note that there is (apparently) a certain way you should throw your coins. Stand around the fountain for a few moments and you’ll be able to see other visitors stopping by and throwing their coins.
It’s said that if you throw your coin with your right hand, over your left shoulder, with your back to the fountain, you will return to Rome. According to the film, if you throw a second coin you’ll find love; throw a third, and that means marriage. It may be superstition, but it’s something that tourists still do here a lot!
Where does the money go?
Of course, a lot of tourists visit the Trevi Fountain every year, so you can imagine that there’s a lot of coins thrown. It’s estimated that around 3,000 euros are left at the end of each day (on average). In 2016 alone, this added up to 1.4 million euros ($1.5 million USD).
It would completely pile up if left and not removed, so the money is actually collected. Rather than being used for the upkeep of the fountain or going into somebody’s pocket, the thousands of coins go to a good cause.
It goes to Catholic charity Caritas, which uses the funds to pay for volunteers to help those in need or financial difficulties, as well as funding soup kitchens and other initiatives in Rome. So by throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain, you can make a wish and help out at the same time.
Trevi Fountain tours
Though it’s perfectly reasonable to visit the Trevi Fountain independently, a tour could add much more value to your visit than going it alone. For one thing, there’s only so much that your guidebook (or even this blog post!) can tell you – it can’t answer any questions that you have on the spot.
A tour, on the other hand, will be led by a knowledgeable guide who will be able to tell you a whole lot of anecdotes about the Trevi Fountain – and who can answer any questions you may have about its history.
In particular, since the Trevi neighborhood is so old, there’s even the option to join a tour that will head underground. Specifically, the underground tour of the Trevi Fountain will take you nine meters below Rome’s city streets, seeing ancient foundations for yourself.
For a guided tour of Trevi underground, click here.
But most amazingly, you’ll be able to see the cisterns that hold the water for the fountain – all still fed by a centuries-old aqueduct.
Nearby there are also a number of other underground sights to discover. Head to the Rinascente department store, for example, to find the ruins of the Aqua Virgo aqueduct still on display.
For a combined tour of Trevi, Navona and the Pantheon, click here.
Make sure to also read my post The Best Sites In Rome Underground.
Where is the Trevi Fountain?
The Trevi Fountain is located in the Trevi district of Rome (also known as Rione II), taking its name from the fountain and the three roads that intersect there. Specifically, you will find this famous fountain in the Piazza di Trevi.
Read my post The Nicest Piazzas In Rome.
Since the fountain is well known, you can expect this area to be quite busy with tourists in the right season – and in fact, in any season. As a result, there are also many tourist oriented restaurants nearby, as well as souvenir shops.
There are other big tourist sights and other things to do in the area – it’s 10 minutes on foot to the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon, for example, and a 20-minute stroll to the Colosseum.
How to get there
The Trevi Fountain is served by a number of different public transport, with dozens of bus routes alone making stops nearby. The nearest metro stops are Spagna (on Line A of the Rome metro) and Barberini–Fontana di Trevi (also on Line A).
The likelihood is, however, that you’ll be arriving by foot – from the Pantheon or the Spanish Steps. There are so many tourist attractions nearby that unless you’re visiting the Trevi Fountain first, you probably won’t be arriving by public transport.
Read my post How To Use Public Transport In Rome.
When to visit the Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain is a very popular attraction in Rome, so you might time your trip if you want to enjoy seeing the fountain minus the throngs of crowds. The fountain is always open, so you can visit at any time of day – or night.
If you visit the fountain at night, you will be treated to a spectacle of illumination. But don’t expect it to be crowd free. For this, you will need to go in the early hours of the morning. That either means staying up all night, or getting up very early!
But it doesn’t matter what time of day you visit. The Trevi Fountain is always impressive, and even with crowds you can feel the atmosphere of the place.