Fountain of the Four Rivers

Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi

The Fountain of the Four Rivers situated on Piazza Navona is one of the most famous landmarks in Rome. In 1644 Pope Innocent X whose family palace, the Palazzo Pamphili, faced onto the piazza decided to erect the Egyptian obelisk near the palace. The obelisk was believed to be brought from Egypt by emperor Caracalla but turned out that it was created during the reign of emperor Domitian and the inscription glorifying Domitian, Vespasianus and Titus was made later in Rome. Bernini was not accepted to the competition to design the fountain by his rivals. But thanks to his protector, Niccolo Ludovisi who managed to show Bernini’s model to the Pope, in the end Bernini was chosen to bring the project to life.

The base of the fountain is a basin from the centre of which travertine rocks rise to support four enormous statues – four river gods representing four main rivers of the continents known to people at that time. The Nile, a symbol of Africa, designed by Giacomo Antonio Fancelli. Nile's head is draped with a loose piece of cloth, meaning that no one at that time knew exactly where the Nile's source was. Ganges carries a long oar, representing the river's navigability, designed by Claudio Pussen. Danube representing Europe (designed by Antonio Ragi) touches the Pope's personal coat of arms, since it is the largest river closest to Rome. Rio de la Plata, a river in Amazonia, representing America, is sitting on a pile of coins, a symbol of America (was designed by Antonio Francesco Baratta). The coat of arms of the Pamphili family pictures a dove with an olive twig, the symbol of salvation and hope. Tiara, the symbol of Pope’s power rests on the crossed keys to heaven. The fountain is considered to be not only the most complicated among the similar structures in Rome but also the most expensive. The cost of the fountain was so high that during its construction the bread tax had to be raised to cover the expenses! In 1651 Pope Innocent X ordered to move the obelisk to Piazza Navona.

Knowing about the conflict in communication between Bernini and Borromini there came to life a legend common with tour guides that Bernini positioned the cowering Rio de la Plata as if the sculpture was fearing the facade of the church of Sant’ Agnese in Agone. However judging by the historical fact it is very unlikely because the fountain was opened in 1651 and construction of the church began only in 1652.

Address: Piazza Navona
Coordinates: 41.898947, 12.473084