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Secrets of Rome: Trevi Fountain Bathers & Coin Throwers

Rome's iconic Trevi Fountain

Rome’s iconic Trevi Fountain

There are hundreds of fountains in Rome, from the many fabulous drinking fountains to the ornately carved works of art that grace many piazzas around the city. None is more famous than the Trevi Fountain, however, thanks in part to its starring role in several films. But for all its fame, the Trevi Fountain still has some hidden little details you probably don’t know about. Here are some of the secrets and stories of the Trevi Fountain.

Trevi History

The Baroque Trevi Fountain is not only one of the top things to see in Rome, it’s also one of the world’s most famous fountains. The name “Trevi” refers to the nearby intersection of three roads – “tre vie” in Italian – which was also the end point of an ancient Roman acqueduct. It wasn’t uncommon for fountains to be built at the end of acqueducts, but in the early 1600s the pope decided that the existing 15th century fountain needed improvement. The project was put on hold for more than 100 years, until Pope Clement XII held a competition for a new design for a new fountain. Work on the Trevi started in 1732, and it was completed in 1762. The final piece to be put into the Trevi was the central statue, a carving of Oceanus, the God of Water, by Pietro Bracci.

Secrets of the Trevi

  • The original designer of the Trevi Fountain died in 1751, more than a decade before the fountain was completed.
  • The sign on a barber shop would have been visible from the front of the fountain, so the designer added a vase to the sculpture to hide the sign.
  • The Trevi is built using mostly travertine marble, the same material used to build most of the Colosseum.
  • The Trevi is Rome’s largest Baroque fountain.
  • The building onto which the Trevi Fountain is attached is the Palazzo Poli. Some major changes were made to the palazzo’s facade during the construction of the Trevi.
  • The Papal Crest is featured at the top of the facade on the back of the Palazzo Poli, high above the fountain. It’s the crest of the Corsini family, of which Pope Clement XII was a member.
  • The sculpture group that makes up the focal point of the fountain has its own name – it’s “Taming of the Waters.” Oceanus appears to hold the reins on a team of sea-horses from his chariot (which is shaped like a shell).
  • The tradition of throwing coins in the Trevi is relatively new – in the 19th century and before, it was said that to make sure you returned to Rome you had to drink from the fountain.
  • The same acqueduct that feeds the Trevi Fountain also feeds the fountain in the Piazza Navona.
  • The Trevi has featured in several movies. You’ll see the fountain in the films “Roman Holiday,” “The Lizzie McGuire Movie,” “Gidget Goes to Rome,” “When in Rome,” and “Three Coins in the Fountain.” It’s perhaps best known for the famous scene in Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” when the actress Anita Ekberg gets into the fountain’s pool in her evening gown.
  • The water in the Trevi was dyed red in 2007 in an act of protest by an artist who was angry about the high ticket prices for a film festival.

Coins in the Fountain

One of the legends associated with the Trevi Fountain is that if you throw a coin into the fountain, you’ll ensure a return to Rome. There are variations on this – throwing the coin with your right hand over your left shoulder is the one most often quoted, but you’ll see people using both hands and both shoulders as they pose for photos at the fountain. The 1954 film “Three Coins in the Fountain” used this tradition as its centerpiece, further popularizing the practice and adding a new dimension – that throwing two coins would lead to new romance, and a third coin to marriage.

As a result, today it is estimated that more than €3,000 is thrown into the Trevi Fountain every day. This has led to some attempts to steal money from the fountain, often in broad daylight, but thanks to the large crowds that are often surrounding the fountain and the proximity of police officers would-be thieves rarely get away with more than a handful of coins.

Officials collect the coins that are thrown into the Trevi Fountain every night, and the money is given to local Roman charities such as the Italian Red Cross and a supermarket that serves the city’s poor. So not only are you possibly giving yourself a better chance at returning to Rome by throwing a coin (or two) into the fountain, you’re also making a small donation to Rome’s less fortunate.

Living La Dolce Vita

Anita Ekberg may have made “swimming in the Trevi” look glamorous, but she’s not the only one to have taken a dip in the Trevi Fountain. Every so often you’ll see a news story pop up about someone being arrested for getting into the pool at the Trevi Fountain – during a particularly stifling heat wave in the summer of 2007, an office clerk even stripped down to nothing to go skinny dipping in the fountain – but swimming in any of Rome’s public fountains is illegal.

Learn more about the famous fountain on a Rome tour that includes the Trevi Fountain

-Jessica Spiegel

Secrets of Rome: Trevi Fountain Bathers & Coin Throwers from Viator Rome

Free Things to Do in Rome

Trevi Fountain in the Evening

As the money seems to just leak out of your wallet, remember there are many things to do for free in Rome that will give you just as much insight into the city as visiting the big museums and attractions. There are also special days and events to help you see the major sights on a budget.

On the last Sunday of every month there is free entry to the Vatican Museums between 9am and 12:30pm. The queues are very long so get there early. Similarly the Musei Capitolini also has free entry on the last Sunday of the month. Also the Galleria Nazionale di San Luca has a lovely small picture collection and is free entry Monday through Saturday mornings.

There is no charge for standing gazing into the falling waters of the Trevi Fountain. The scale is huge – 85 ft high (26m) and 66 ft wide (20m) – and the square it stands in surprisingly small. They say that if you throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain you will one day return to Rome.

The Spanish Steps are another icon of Rome and free to walk up and sit upon, although don’t leave any rubbish behind. In spring the steps are adorned with flowers. From the top outside the church of Trinita dei Monti and further up you get good views of the city.

The Pantheon is the best-preserved remainder of Ancient Rome and is a wonderful round church, once a pagan temple. Make sure you wander around the outside and look at the rough brick walls built so many centuries ago for Hadrian around 120AD. It’s located in the Piazza della Rotonda, a good place for sitting to people-watch day or night.

Some churches charge an entry fee but many are free to wander inside and this being Rome you’ll find all sort of wonderful paintings and sculpture adorning them.

The Appian Way is the most famous of Roman roads. On Sundays it is closed to traffic and makes for a great walk in the footsteps of the Roman legions. Along the way are tombs and catacombs, ancient walls and sacred rivers.

There’s no charge for putting your hand in the mouth of truth, but if you’ve been telling lies superstition says the hand will be chopped off. Located in the Piazza Bocca della Verita.

Porta Portese Market is the main flea market in Rome held on Sundays until 2pm. It’s in Via Portuense and Via Ippolito Nievo in Trastevere. Also there’s the daily Campo de Fiori food market, Rome’s oldest market, in Piazza di Campo de Fiori.

-Philippa Burne

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