You are currently viewing The Fountain of the Four Rivers

The Fountain of the Four Rivers

Piazza Navona is undoubtedly one of the most majestic squares in Rome, with the Fountain of the Four Rivers playing a special role. Of course, there is much more to see here than that. Today’s article is dedicated to this place and the surrounding sights.

Table of Content:

1. The Fountain of the Four Rivers and Piazza Navona: History
2. Piazza Navona: Fountains
3. The Fountain of Four Rivers
4. Reconstruction of the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi Fountain
5. Neptune’s Fountain
6. Church of the Virgin St. Agnes
7. Life at the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi
8. My Rome Tips

The Fountain of the Four Rivers and Piazza Navona: History

So, let’s start with the history. Its beginning dates back to ancient times under Caesar. By his decree, a temporary stadium for athletes was erected for the coming of a significant holiday. Later, by the first century AD under the reigning emperor Domitian, the stadium was significantly enlarged.

Moreover, its area exceeded even the area of the Colosseum. The changes also affected the capacity, which was already about 15 thousand spectators. Sports competitions were also held here. It was here, by the way, that the festive game for the wedding of Caracalla and his bride Plautina was held.

Changes were also made to the name.

During the period of antiquity, the stadium was called the “competition arena” – Circus Agonalis.

It is known that in different periods of time the name was changed to “in agone”, then to “navone”, and then, after all these transformations, to “navona”. As you can see, in this variant the name has survived to our time.

Piazza Navona: Fountains

The most famous fountain that we started our consideration of this square with is the Fountain of the Four Rivers.

The Fountain of the Four Rivers is a masterpiece resulting from the creation of the famous Italian sculptor, Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini.

Adorning this fountain are four titans, which represent the rivers of the continents that were already known at that time. These are:

  • Nile (river in Africa)
  • Ganges (river in India)
  • La Plata (river in the Americas)
  • Danube (Europe)

It is noteworthy that this work is not conceptually new, because it was invented by the Italian architect Francesco Borromini. It was commissioned to him by Pope Innocent X.

Besides, he was Bernini’s eternal rival and had no sympathy for him. On the discord of the two geniuses formed a lot of stories, their bias in relation to each other’s creations came at times to ridiculous. And the Berini Fountain also became a kind of stumbling block, it has its own fascinating story.

For example, a competition was announced for it, to which its final creator, due to the intrigues of persons who disliked him, was not admitted.

Bernini nevertheless created his own design for the fountain. He did not have any special favored persons, but one patron was still found, it is Niccolo Albergati Ludovisi. The prince was the husband of the pope’s niece.

He left a model of a fountain in the dining room where the pope was eating. On seeing it, Innocent was so amazed that he canceled the competition and immediately ordered Bernini to begin construction of his creation.

The Fountain of Four Rivers

But the story doesn’t end there either. The fact is that Borromini was involved in the creation of the church in Piazza Navona. Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi immortalized the confrontation of the two geniuses. Thus, it can be seen that the figures react with a certain horror and quite negatively to the cathedral nearby.

One of the figures deviates from the cathedral, turning away, and the other figure in its position “closes” from it, according to the idea it is the Nile. The latter variant has two versions. According to one of them, it is believed that Bernini allegedly claimed at one time that this church would collapse under the gaze of the giant.

The other version of this position does not concern the history of the rivalry and is explained by the fact that at that time it was not known where the source of the Nile was located.

The architects’ rivalry was reflected in sculpture


Another figure is depicted with an outstretched arm, as if ready to support the church when it falls. Needless to say, this realization was the cause of certain ridicule of Borromini. He, for his part, wishing for payback, looked for what flaws the Fountain of the Four Rivers might have. And he found one: his calculations indicated that a couple of minutes after the fountain was inaugurated, it would run out of water.

Expecting the coming disgrace, Borromini only had to wait for the fountain, as well as Bernini himself, to come to this. Bernini, learning of this, tried to figure out what the matter in his drawings, which proved to be a futile endeavor.

Then, in a less than honorable way, he got the calculations into his possession. Thus the flaw was discovered and corrected. These are the legends concerning the history of this fountain, but there are many variations, so it is not necessary to state unequivocally what actually took place.

A special mention should be made of the Egyptian obelisk installed on the fountain with the coat of arms of the Pope on its top in the form of a dove holding a branch of an olive tree in its beak. However, in reality this obelisk turned out to be a pseudo-Egyptian one, which, however, does not detract from its majesty and peculiar beauty.

Although the Fountain of the Four Rivers is the most important and majestic structure in Piazza Navona, it is not the only one that attracts the attention of tourists. Thus, there are two other structures to see here, the Moor and Neptune fountains. The first one is located on the southern part of Piazza Navona. It depicts a Moor wrestling with a dolphin.

Reconstruction of the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi Fountain

The old fountains in Piazza Navona have been reconstructed before, and this one was no exception. Bernini was directly involved in the changes to this fountain. For example, the fountain had to be enlarged. This was achieved by removing the railings and steps. These, in turn, were replaced by an additional marble basin, its outline repeating that of the first basin.

However, the result was not to the liking of the Pope, so the next year a large sink in which the dolphins were installed was removed from the fountain. In its place, but already in 1654, another sculpture was added. The characteristic features of its face led to the fact that the name “The Moor” was firmly entrenched behind it, although according to the idea it is none other than Neptune, fighting with dolphins.

Neptune’s Fountain

The reconstruction also affected the Neptune Fountain, built in the 76th year of the XVI century by the sculptor and architect Giacoma della Porta. It is located in the northern part of the square. After the modifications, before which it, figuratively speaking, looked simple, without sculptures in the design, it became as we see it now.

The sculptor Antonio della Bitta added the main sculpture of the fountain, Neptune proper. In his hand you can see the trident with which he hunts the octopus. Surrounding him are the Nereids, mythical sea creatures that already belong to the hand of the master Gregorio Zappali.

The Virgin St. Agnes Church

We have already briefly mentioned this church in our article, now we will dwell on it in a little more detail.

The Church of St. Agnes

Sant’Agnese in Agone began to be built in the year 52 of the XVII century by the architect Girolamo Rainaldi. Barromini was in charge of its Baroque facade. This church was erected in honor of a holy virgin named Agnes. She was born in the 3rd century into a Christian family. Legend has it that at one time she rejected the son of a Roman perfectus who was wooing her for religious reasons.

His wounded ego demanded action, and so Agnes, by his order, had to be banished to a brothel. The girl was stripped and taken, naked, to the brothel. At the same time a miracle happened. Suddenly hair began to grow, which immediately hid Agnes’ naked body. However, the miracles did not end there.

Men who wished for the girl instantly lost their power, and one of them died as soon as he approached her. The father of the dead boy asked Agnes to bring his son back to life, and she did so through her prayers. For this reason she was considered a sorceress, after which an attempt was made to burn the girl at the stake. The pyre did not ignite, but this did not save Agnes, she was killed by the sword of one of the soldiers.

In the church of St. Agnes


The right side of the church of St. Agnes still contains a skull belonging to her. The church itself is not only dedicated to this girl. Thus, Pope Innocent X is buried here. It is thanks to his family that now everyone has the opportunity to observe the gorgeous Baroque composition, so originally united on the territory of Piazza Navona.

This square can rightfully be called an architectural marvel, placed in the heart of Rome. Here, as the reader can already understand, are collected true masterpieces of the brilliant architects Bernini and Borromini.

Life at the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi

Piazza Navona is alive with life around the clock. Here you can:

  • to see artists creating their own masterpieces
  • to hear musicians adding to the atmosphere of the place with legendary compositions
  • to see artists performing their best acts for the public

Вкуснейшей итальянской кухней манят уютные ресторанчики, а отели предлагают лучшие свои предложения для всех желающих пожить некоторое время как можно ближе к этому великолепию, таким образом, к нему приобщаясь.

My Rome Tips:

  • How to avoid long lines at attractions in Rome. Tickets to the Colosseum bypassing the line.
  • How not to be cheated by local cab drivers. Order a cab in advance with fixed rates online. The most reliable service for ordering a cab is KiwiTaxi.
  • Touring Rome with locals can help you get to know the city. The best way to get to know an unfamiliar city is to walk around it with someone who has lived here for years.
  • Rome City Pass is a single card that will simplify the organization of your vacation in Rome and will help you save time and money.
  • City Sightseeing Rome is a tour bus and a great way to get to all of Rome’s essential monuments quickly, in breeze and in comfort.
  • Hotels in Rome: our choice and recommendations.
  • How to avoid long lines at Rome attractions – tickets to the Vatican bypassing the lines.
  • Dreamsim – universal international sim card and free travel app. Best prices, fast internet and calls worldwide.
  • It is advisable to take out travel insurance so that there are no unpleasant surprises when traveling to Rome.