View Article: Aqueducts and the Trevi Fountain
University of Washington Honors Program in Rome

Aqueducts and the Trevi Fountain
Section One 1 of 7

Romulus & Remus
The myth of Romulus, founder of Rome, and Remus, his twin brother, explains that the two were raised by a she-wolf after being left to drown in the Tiber River.
Acqua Vergine
The Acqua Vergine, which supplies water to the Trevi Fountain, is almost entirely underground.
Acqua Claudia
The Acqua Claudia is the largest remaining aqueduct that can be seen above ground.
Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain, designed by the little-known poet and architect Nicola Salvi, was completed in 1762 by other sculptors, after his death.
The Role of Water in Ancient Rome

Rome was indebted to water from the day it became a city, when the mythological founder Romulus purposely selected an area traversed by the Tiber River and rich with flowing springs. The area was especially worthy because it was where he and his twin brother Remus had supposedly been set adrift to drown. Since then, water has found a place in mythology, religion, medicine, wealth, and of course, in practical purposes (however exaggerated). Elements of water in the form of rivers, floods, springs, fountains, and playful water nymphs are a crucial part of Rome’s foundation story and mythology.

Water was also used early on as a healing agent. Ancient Romans once even used water as a form of medicine. There are legends of the prophetic water nymphs of Camenae and the healing Spring of Juterna. Ironically, today it is speculated that the “healing waters of the Tiber floods” actually caused widespread plagues.

In addition to healing purposes, water rose as a symbol of great wealth and power. Romans began building structures employing water obsessively. It functioned as a necessary component of private status symbols such as fountains, baths, and villas, as well as a tool of political propaganda, power status, and the empire’s largesse. In fact, speculation suggests that water functioned as an agent of wealth and luxury rather than for strict hygiene or health purposes: “[…] Water supply in the Roman city […] has little or nothing to do with the promotion of public health and hygiene, and we may muddy the waters, so to speak, if we insist that it did” (Koloski-Ostrow).

Because water was considered public property and open for people to infinitely consume and enjoy in whatever form they desired (from the most elaborate fountains to the simplest indulgences), town governments avoided the expense of purchasing private land for aqueducts by seizing and zoning public land. Aqueducts were constructed as a result of the growing need for more and more water, and a more indulgent relationship with water ensued.

Engineering of An Aqueduct

Given the cultural significance of water, there was a growing demand for water suppliers. Aqueducts, which allow for the efficient passage of water through a pipe and out a given destination, were constructed in order to meet the desires of the ancient Romans. The first aqueducts supplied water for large public baths, private villas of emperors, and decorative fountains, both public and private.

Considering the time period and the advanced capabilities of the aqueducts, the skill of ancient engineers is easily recognizable. The system worked on an extremely huge scale, yet most of the aqueducts were remarkably uniform. High and low extremes of each aqueduct were impressively similar to one another. This was due to the tendency of large aqueducts to impede traffic. Instead of constructing large aqueducts in areas requiring more water, the ancient Romans simply added more “regulation” aqueducts.

There were, however, several flaws in the aqueduct systems. For example, many of the aqueducts leaked and needed frequent repair. Being continuously exposed to weather, falling subject to the typically hard water of Rome, and withstanding constant use, they often required maintenance. In later centuries, popes would restore ancient aqueducts or build completely new ones. Additionally, most of the original structures were constructed using lead pipes, now known to be hazardous. The system itself and the sheer volume of water consumed was remarkable for the time period. The engineering exemplified the Roman ideals of luxurious water use and symbolized the grandiosity of the empire.

Water flow through ancient aqueducts could be achieved in two ways. The first was a pressurized system using enclosed pipes which were completely filled with water. The system allowed for water to be carried down and up again. The second method, which was characteristic of Rome’s ancient aqueducts, employed gravity through the use of free-flow channels. These channels, which were big enough to accommodate a grown man, tunneled underground and through the mountains, into hill contours or constructs in buildings. The pipes were never completely full of water; it passed gradually downward until it met its destination in the form of baths, basins, fountains, or water displays.

Famous Aqueducts in History

The first aqueduct in Rome was the Acqua Appia, built in 312 B.C.E. by Appius Claudius, and stretching 16 km in length. The Acqua Appia entered Rome where Porta Maggiore now exists, and provided water for the roughly 200,000 inhabitants of the city. As the population increased, demand for water and structures using water also rose, which led to the eventual construction of ten aqueducts during the Republic and Empire.

Among these constructions was the Anio Vetus, the oldest aqueduct in the Park of Seven Aqueducts, which was mostly underground and built between 272 and 269 B.C.E. Other functioning aqueducts were the Acqua Marcia in 44 B.C.E., the Acqua Tepula in 125 B.C.E., the Acqua Julia in 33 B.C.E., and the Acqua Claudia and Anio Novus, which were initiated by Caligula in 38 A.D. and restored by Vespasian in 71 and Titus in 81. The aqueducts pulled water into Rome from far outside of the city walls, the largest at the time being Anio Novus at 95 km long and 28 m high. By 52 A.D., there were nine aqueducts in use, supplying Rome with almost 1000 liters of water every day. Considering the Roman population of one million, this number earned Rome the title of the only city in the world ever to be supplied with so much water.

The last aqueduct built in ancient Rome was completed by Alexander Severus in 226. In 537, the aqueducts were cut off by the Goths, but regained popularity in the 16th century, when popes began to restore and rebuild them. The papal aqueducts Acqua Felice, Acqua Traiana, Acqua Paola, and Pia Marcia, still function in modern Rome. The most recent papal aqueduct, Pia Marcia, which was partly constructed of cast-iron, was inaugurated by Pius X in 1870, a mere ten days before Italian troops put an end to the papal rule in Rome.

After 1870, the water supply was increased again and again to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population. Acqua Vergine Nuova was inaugurated in 1937, and the most recent aqueduct was constructed between 1938 and 1980. This aqueduct, Peschiera-Capore, is the largest aqueduct using only spring water in the world, currently providing more water to Rome than all of the other aqueducts combined.

Today the oldest surviving aqueduct is the Anio Vetus (built in the third century B.C.E.), but it exists almost entirely underground. The most noticeable aqueduct is Acqua Claudia, whose high arches stretch far above street level.

The Story of the Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain is the most famous fountain in Rome, its name deriving from the words tre vie (meaning three roads), referring to the roads that converged where the fountain now stands. It was conceived by Pietro da Cortona and Bernini, but due to the death of Pope Urban VIII, the fountain was not completed until 100 years later, when Clement XII held a competition for the design. The little-known architect and poet Nicola Salvi was granted the commission, and the fountain was finished between 1732 and 1751. Nine sculptors and a number of stonecutters worked on the fountain until its completion.

The Trevi draws water from the Acqua Vergine Antica aqueduct, which is almost entirely underground. This aqueduct was brought to Rome by Agrippa from a spring roughly 20 km east of the city, in order to supply water to his public baths by the Pantheon in 19 B.C.E. The aqueduct was restored in 1570 by Pius V, after years of use throughout the Middle ages, and still feeds the fountains of Piazza Farnese, Piazza di Spagna, and Piazza Navona.

Salvi’s design incorporates a background composed entirely of the Neo-classical façade of Palazzo Poli, which had been completed in 1730. The fountain itself was finished in 1762, after Salvi’s death, and restored for the first time from 1989-1991.
Section Two 2 of 7

Semi-Aerial View
Horse and Triton with Conch
The Trevi Surprise
Adhering to Baroque tradition, the Trevi Fountain is never fully seen while walking toward it - only the spectators' reactions and parts of the sculpture are available, until visitors are hit with the fountain's grandeur when they actually reach the fountain.
The Trevi fountain, which borrows elements from classical and Baroque styles, covers an entire side of the Piazza Poli in the Quirinale District, at 20 m wide and 26 m high. It is a primarily marble fountain, comprised of four Corinthian columns, an attic on a balustrade with a statue of two winged Fames, as well as extensive sculptural representations and water passages lending balance and symmetry to the entire piece.

At the top is the coat of arms of Clemente XII, which was carved by Paolo Benaglia. At the balustrade are four statues sculpted by Corsini, Ludovisi, Queirolo, and Pincellotti symbolizing the four seasons, and the benefit of water. From left to right, the statues symbolize Abundance of Fruit, Fertility of the Fields, the Gifts of Autumn, and the Amenities of Meadows and Gardens.

The center of the fountain, carved by Pietro Bracci, is a sea-shell carriage driven by two tritons commanding sea horses. The central figure is Oceanus, commander of the sea and a mythological personification of water. He holds a scepter to symbolize his authority of all water, and appears wrapped in drapery that contrast his commanding gesture. Oceanus is characterized by a full beard and head of hair, reminiscent of ancient Roman depictions of him, as well as early sculptures symbolizing youth and power. The two tritons surrounding him, one of which blows a conch, conduct the winged chariot. The horses, one calm and the other restive, imply constant motion and represent the fluctuating moods of the sea. The theatrical representations of these sculptures are characteristic of newer Baroque styles.

To the right of the niches is the “Salubrity,” or “Health,” and on the left, “Abundance,” or “Fertility,” both of which were sculpted by Filippo Valle. They appear detached and calm. Health, on the right, wears a crown and extends a cup to a sacred snake. Fertility holds a cornucopia, from which she takes a bunch of grapes. Both figures represent the benefits of the Acqua Vergine. Above these is a bas-relief by Giovan Battista Grossi and Andrea Bergondi. These sculptures illustrate the legend of Agrippa, who approved the aqueduct project to the virgin, or Roman maiden, who is showing the source to thirsty soldiers.

The basin at street level, representative of the sea, houses several rock structures constructed of tufo. The artistically carved fountain, never fully visible from the street until one is actually at it, is an exciting contrast to the city around it. The seeming randomness of the rocks contrast the strict form of the structure behind them. The sharpness of the rocks, too, contrast the sculptural flowers among them. The rocks, flowers, and rushing water add an organic element to the sculpture, helping to fuse the three components of architecture, sculpture and water which are viewed as a whole, rather than separately.

Further adding to this tension is the gridlike symmetry of the fountain’s backdrop, composed of majestic columns and rows of windows. This contrasts the seemingly arbitrary rocks below, temperamental figures, and rushing water that provides both a moving visual and an audio component. The water also plays on the sculptures, causing them to appear lifelike and moving, therefore spectators are drawn in as active participants to the scene.

The result of the diverse components is a structure which rises ambiguously from organic and jagged to smoothly crafted, or vice versa. While the entire structure is manmade, it effectively gives the impression of growing or fusing both elemental components and sculpted ones, complementing the human and godly images which also merge in the fountain. The image commands attention, dominating the square where it was built, and skewing the lines between humans and gods.
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The Impact of the Trevi Fountain
The impression of the Trevi Fountain is easily felt by people passing through.
The steps leading down towards the Trevi and the fountain's immensity of size and presentation (in relation to its more modest surroundings and urban setting) convey the function of the fountain quite clearly. It was publicly viewed, and meant to be on display for many people. The Trevi is altogether a proud celebration of Rome - of the historical culture and styles, of the dynamics of mood and architecture, as well as of the people who have lived there and the people passing through.

Reflective of the Roman importance of water and power, the Trevi stands as "an imperial gesture, flamboyant and triumphant, the kind of fountain that any Emperor would have erected who desired to impress upon the populace the virtues of new water and his own virtue in introducing it. Much of the most beautiful dream architecture of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries went up in flames in the course of firework displays and the greatest architects of the time were willing to design the ephemeral scenery of masques and public spectacles. Consequentially the Trevi is probably that rare object, a reflection in stone of those fragile splendours" (Morton). Its intention is not easily lost on the viewer. Even the most accustomed local will likely be drawn in by the fountain while passing through the square.
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A Fusion of Styles
Oceanus (also thought to be Neptune) shows the combinations of classical architecture and mythological representation, as well as the coming together of organic and structural ideals.
The Trevi's adherence to myth and its collaboration of artistic styles, sights, and sounds, addresses the concerns of the patron in erecting a monument whose purpose is to convey triumph and celebration. The Trevi began as an idea to replace a much lesser existing fountain, and a century later the production finally began. The result was three decades of artists working to create what we now recognize to be one of the most important relatively modern structures in Rome.

The patron's goals are realized upon viewing the transitions between strict structure and organic form, between myth and modern functionality, between movement and stillness. The key aspect of the Trevi's goal is that of collaboration. The effect, which is both visually and aurally stunning, fulfills its purpose well.
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Three Coins In the Fountain
The Trevi becomes a star.
La Dolce Vita
Anita Ekberg takes a dip in the Trevi Fountain.
Although the Trevi Fountain seems to be more reflective than innovative (in addition to incorporating Baroque styles), it has become one of the most visited sites in Rome, and has taken a cameo in several films. It appears in the last scene of the 1954 American Film "Three Coins in the Fountain," and also has a role in numerous Italian films. "La Dolce Vita," directed by Federico Fellini in 1959, is one of the most famous films starring the Trevi.

One of the most exciting aspects of the Trevi Fountain for visitors is the effect it has on its audience. This is not immediately observed, but it is felt as soon as the fountain is within earshot. The subtle transitions between sight and sound, and the tensions between straight symmetry and organic abstraction, have been dealt with so discreetly and so smoothly that the drawing force of the Trevi is almost like the backstage managers of a well-done play - we appreciate them without realizing it, and we don't really know why. Everything holds itself together, and viewers sense this and feel satisfied by the enormous and compelling fountain before them.

The Trevi Fountain, as well as the remaining aqueducts, are fascinating sites which attract tourists from all over the world - perhaps this proves that water really does symbolize wealth. This idea may be the driving force behind the legend that promises a safe and pleasant return to Rome if you toss a coin into the Trevi's water. Shortly before departing Rome, you should turn your back to the fountain and toss the coin over your left shoulder. Tossing three coins promises love and marriage to an Italian. Italian currency goes to the municipality. Foreign coins are donated to the Italian Red Cross.
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  Personal Observations
In researching this topic, I was interested to learn about the extent of thought, time, and labor that went into the conception, planning, and construction of the Trevi Fountain. It seems that the dynamic differences in subject matter and tension between form and styles directly parallel the execution of the fountain itself. I also found it fun to piece together the different parts of the fountain while actually seeing it for the first time.
Another note I found interesting was that some of the articles I read explained the Baroque element of surprise. The Trevi is never in full view until you get right up to it, which supposedly adds an element of suspense. True to its intention, the Trevi had the same effect on me. I visited it for the first time at night; I followed the signs until I entered through a narow walkway masking most of the fountain. All I could see was the crowd, the light, and part of the stones. All I could hear was the rushing water. Even when I got up to the fountain, I couldn't help but weave through the people so I could see all of it at once.

The Trevi is a great monument because it was built so recently (in comparison with many of the other monuments and ruins we have seen) but it still reflects the mythology and incorporates the importance of water that was shared by ancient Romans as well. I was excited to learn about the Trevi, as well as the story behind the aqueducts and the role of water. The amount of water consumed by Rome continues to amaze me, but it is definitely a great characteristic of the city. The public fountains which constantly run are especially effective on hot days!
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Detail of the Trevi Fountain
Frontal View
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