Why Is the Trevi Fountain So Famous?

The Trevi fountain is an iconic landmark in the center of Rome. We celebrate its history with some key facts about the famous and much-loved monument.

Jul 11, 2023By Rosie Lesso, MA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine Art

why is the trevi fountain so famous


The Trevi Fountain is situated in the heart of Rome, and it remains one of the city’s greatest attractions, drawing tourists from far and wide with its stunning aqua water and ornate sculptural details. Once an ancient water source, the fountain connects to one of Rome’s oldest aqueducts, gushing fresh water into the city, and it has remained remarkably intact since then. Meanwhile, the sculptural details that adorn the fountain today were built on top of the water source during the 18th century, showcasing the artistic mastery of the Baroque era. In modern times the fountain has made appearances in numerous cultural references, from movies and books to works of art, while the romantic tradition for tossing coins into the fountain are world-renowned. In celebration of this great monument, we take a look at the reasons why it remains so famous and adored today.


The Trevi Fountain Was Once an Ancient Water Source

The magnificent Trevi Fountain today


The original water source that powers through the Trevi fountain was put in place during the Roman Empire. It was built in 19 BCE at a central location to provide water for the citizens of Rome. The location where the water source sat was between three main roads, and its name, ‘Trevi’ makes reference to this unique spot. Water for the fountain once came from the Aqua Virgo, which was once one of Rome’s most important aqueducts, bringing in water for the citizens of ancient Rome. The aqueduct was restored during the Renaissance period and renamed the Aqua Vergine, which is still the source of the fountain’s water today. However, it is not drinkable today, because it undergoes a series of treatment processes.


It Is a Baroque Masterpiece

Details of the Papal coat of arms of Clement XII crowns the façade.


In 1629, Pope Urban VIII led a remodeling of the ancient fountain. He commissioned the esteemed sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini to carry out a complete redesign of the fountain, to lend it an air of grandeur that would suit the Baroque age in which they were living. However, following the death of Pope Urban the project was shelved. Around 100 years later, Italian authorities revisited the fountain, assigning Nicola Salvi the redesign of the fountain, working with Bernini’s original sketches and plans.


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It took 30 years for the fountain’s design to be completed, using the same white travertine stone that we see in the Colosseum, and it was finally unveiled to the public in 1762. The man in the center of the fountain is the god Oceanus, who rides a chariot driven by seahorses, while the rest of the fountain relates to the theme of ‘taming the waters’ with a series of sculptures related to the city of Rome.


The Trevi Fountain Is a Cultural Icon

Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita, 1960, posing in the Trevi Fountain


The Trevi Fountain has made appearances in various examples of art, movies and literature. The fountain famously appeared in an iconic scene of Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita in 1960 featuring Anita Ekberg, as well as William Wyler’s Roman Holiday, 1953, featuring Audrey Hepburn. Meanwhile Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote the gothic romance titled The Marble Faun in 1860 based on the Trevi Fountain.


The Trevi Fountain Coins

trevi fountain coins


The Trevi fountain is filled with coins, and this is in part due to the fountain’s renowned ‘coin tradition.’ Legend has it if you toss a coin into the fountain over your shoulder while turned away from it, you will return to Rome. Two coins means you will return to Rome to fall in love, and a third equals a return to Rome followed by love and marriage. Whether or not you believe the the coins can actually grant luck, Roman authorities collect them from the fountain, which add up to 1.5 million euros every year, and donate them to the charity Caritas, which supports the homeless and underprivileged. All this means the coin tradition has become beneficial for the people of Rome.

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By Rosie LessoMA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine ArtRosie is a contributing writer and artist based in Scotland. She has produced writing for a wide range of arts organizations including Tate Modern, The National Galleries of Scotland, Art Monthly, and Scottish Art News, with a focus on modern and contemporary art. She holds an MA in Contemporary Art Theory from the University of Edinburgh and a BA in Fine Art from Edinburgh College of Art. Previously she has worked in both curatorial and educational roles, discovering how stories and history can really enrich our experience of art.