Piazza Navona and the Tale of Three Fountains

As soon as I read about the fountains of Piazza Navona in Rome, I knew they would be at the top of our Rome Walking Itinerary. With the Trevi Fountain closed for repairs during our 10 weeks in Europe 2015 trip, you can imagine the excitement of discovering a Piazza that was home to not one, but three famous fountains.

Piazza Navona The Tale of Three Fountains in Rome

The balmy weather and fewer crowds of Early Spring made it the perfect time to explore Rome on foot. It was no accident that our Airbnb room in the atmospheric neighbourhood of Trastevere was a well-positioned starting point.

Five minutes after devouring a cup of fruit at Campo di Fiori, we were arriving at the southern entrance to Piazza Navona.

You wouldn’t imagine, without prior knowledge, that Piazza Navona was built above the Stadium of Domitian (80 AD) in the 15th Century. It sits neatly over the stadium’s interior arena, an area larger than that of the Coliseum’s (arena), while the original arcades sit beneath the buildings that line the piazza today.

But back to those fountains.

The Fountain of the Moor.

The Fountain acquired it’s name when 18th Century locals decided the face of the muscle-bound fish-grappling Triton in the centre of the fountain had Moorish features. Back in 1575 the fountain’s statues were of a Dolphin and four lesser Tritons, with Bernini’s imposing central Triton being added in 1653. In 1874 the original statues were placed in the Galleria Borghese, meaning the copies on display today are a whopping 142 years old!

Notice the beautiful rose coloured marble basin.

Piazza Navona Moor Fountain Rome Full View


Piazza Navona Moor Fountain

Strolling northward the Piazza reveals an array of Al Fresco dining options on the right.

Piazza Navona Strolling in Rome

Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi.

The Fountain of the Four Rivers, resides outside the Sant’Agnese Church, mid way in the Piazza. The fountain’s statues are of the four river gods from the continents of Papal authority. Namely the Nile in Africa, the Danube in Europe, the Ganges in Asia and the Río de la Plata from the Americas. This could explain that puzzling palm tree.

The River God Ganges on the left, holds an oar to represent the navigability of his river, while on the right, the Nile God’s head is covered with material alluding to the fact that the source of the Nile back then was unknown or hidden.

Piazza Navona Four Rivers Close

Opened in 1651, the fountain is distinguished by an Obelisk rising between the statues of the four gods. Rome has eight original Egyptian Obelisks and five built to order for the city. This particular one (16m or 54ft tall) was built to order for another project in AD81 and was seconded here in 1651. All the Obelisks, original or commissioned, were freighted down the Nile and across the Mediterranean in special Obelisk Ships. I would like to have seen that.

Built from the public purse during the drought of 1646-48, Romans of the day were not pleased with this latest extravagance. In the tradition of Pasquino, hand written papers were attached to the fountain proclaiming:

“We do not want Obelisks and Fountains, It is bread that we want. Bread, Bread, Bread!”

Piazza Navona Roman Commissioned Egyptian Obelisk

Sant’Agnese in Agone

The church, shown behind the fountain and Obelisk in the photo below, was constructed in 1652 on the site where St. Agnes was martyred in the then Stadium of Domitian.

Piazza Navona Rome Sant'Agnese in Agone

Fountain of Neptune

Like the Fountain of the Moors at the southern end of the Piazza, Neptune’s fountain was designed by Giacomo della Porta (1574). It wasn’t for another 300 years that the fountain acquired statues to balance the look of the Piazza. With public drinking and washing no longer a requirement, Rome as Capital of the newly formed state of Italy, was interested in a more decorative style. The piazza now had three impressive fountains worthy of the Capital.

The statues depict Neptune fighting an octopus with an audience of sea nymphs, cupids and walruses.

Piazza Navona Neptune Fountain of Rome

The three fountains of Piazza Navona, together with the Trevi, were once solely fed from the Aqueduct of the Virgin, but modern day Rome recycles water and sometimes mixes water from the different aqueducts to ensure a continual water supply.

Vivi Bistrot.

Coffee at Vivi Bistrot Piazza Navona Rome

Budget Travel Talk

Piazza Navona is a budget travel attraction in Rome.

Free to Enter.

Three major fountains within one piazza.

Vivi Bistrot at the entrance of Palazzo Braschi in the south-west corner of Palazzo Navona has excellent affordable coffee and a convenient restroom. It’s entrance can be seen beneath the red sign in the Fountain of the Moor photo above.

Add a link to your travel post at the link up below.  I am co-hosting Nancie’s Travel Photo Thursday with Ruth from Tanama Tales and  Rachel from Rachel’s Ruminations.

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