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The oldest Fountain in Rome

Did you know? The oldest fountain in Rome, still working, is the one located in front of the basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere.

This wonderful monument was designed by Donato Bramante starting from an imperial fountain, over time it was then modified first by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and then by Carlo Fontana. Let’s go and discover all the secrets.

Oldest Roman Fountain

Over the centuries, Pope Adrian I wanted the pre-existing fountain to be restored and since then documentary traces have been lost until 1450.

On the occasion of the jubilee, under the papacy of Niccolò V Parentucelli, a square basin was built on a short staircase. Two circular-shaped basins were placed in the center, one above the other, both supported by a column.

Between 1496 and 1501 Bramante put his hand to the fountain. He decorated the remaining upper basin with wolf heads: the water gushed from their mouths to fall back into the lower basin.

piazza santa maria in trastevere

At the end of the sixteenth century Giovanni Fontana carried out a radical intervention on the same work to change its appearance. The base basin thus became octagonal.

Bernini in 1658 completed the modernization of the fountain by placing the coats of arms of Pope Alexander VII on the sides of the larger basin, the shells with the valves open to the outside and an epigraph. Furthermore, the fountain was moved from where it had remained for centuries until then, on the opposite side of the church, to the place where it still stands today.

As reported by Turismo Roma, it is one of the oldest monumental fountains in Rome, already documented in the plan by Pietro del Massaio of 1471, and for a long time it was also the only public fountain in Trastevere. Its long history is summarized in some epigraphs (remakes or nineteenth-century transcriptions of pre-existing tombstones) inserted on the sides of the fountain.

Despite the numerous interventions it was subjected to over the centuries, the fountain has however substantially preserved its original architecture: a first square and then polygonal basin, at the center of which rose two superimposed basins of different sizes (then reduced to one).

The first restoration dates back to the end of the fifteenth century, during the pontificate of Alexander VI Borgia: it was on this occasion that the second basin was abolished and four bronze wolf heads were added around the remaining basin. However, the main changes were made during the seventeenth century.

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At the beginning of the century, there is news of an intervention carried out by Girolamo Rainaldi, probably following the arrival of the Acqua Felice in Trastevere. At the time of Pope Alexander VII Chigi (1655-1667), the fountain was moved to the center of the square and was equipped with a greater amount of water from the renovated Traiano-Paolo aqueduct.

The work was entrusted to Gian Lorenzo Bernini who sculpted the coat of arms of Alexander VII and the commemorative inscription on the mirrors of the basin, above which four double shells were inserted. Finally, in the last decade of the seventeenth century, under the pontificate of Innocent XII Pignatelli, Carlo Fontana enlarged the basin and replaced the Bernini shells with larger ones facing inside, giving the fountain its current appearance.

Finally, in 1873, the Municipality of Rome had the fountain rebuilt in Bardiglio, a type of gray marble, adding a showy S.P.Q.R. outside the shells.

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