Fountain of the Four Rivers

Fountain of the Four Rivers, Piazza Navona, Rome, Italy

Public Art : Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi)

Sculptor/design : Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680)

Date : Erected 1651

Description : The baroque fountain is sculpted in travertine and marble and features the great red Oriental granite obelisk brought to Rome by Emperor Caracalla (originally built for the Roman Serapeum in AD 81) and which had been recovered from the Circus of Romulus. To be sure Pope Innocent X was forever remembered, atop the obelisk is a bronze dove and olive-branch, the emblem of the Pamphili family (the Pope's family) and symbolic of the peaceful work of the Church.  The four marble sculpted "River Gods" represent the great rivers from different continents. The river god Ganges holds an oar representing  the river's easy navigation, the Niles river god has a cloth draped over his head because at the time no one knew the location of the Nile's water source, the Danube river god is touching the Papal coat of arms as it is the closest of the four rivers to Rome and the Río de la Plata is sitting on a pile of coins, a symbol of the  America's potential riches.The circular tank is adorned by no more than 7 different animals.

Location : Centre fountain (in front of the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone) in Piazza Navona, Rome, Italy.

Unveiled : The Fountain of The Four Rivers was unveiled on 12th of June, 1651. Hidden for much of the time behind scaffolding and curtains, the public were treated to a fanfare at the unveiling. Pope Innocent X, who paid for the festival, spared no expense. A woman with wings attached to her back was paraded around the streets on a carriage blowing a trumpet and urging all to follow her to Piazza Navona. When the fountana was finally unveiled it was met with enrapture!

History of the Fountain of the Four Rivers : Gian Lorenzo Bernini was eventually commissioned by Pope Innocent X to build the Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Fiumi) in Piazza Navona. The impressive fountain was built on the order of the Pope, to commemorate the redirection of water from the Acqua Vergine (one of Rome's principal water supplies) to the square in front of his family palace, the Palazzo Pamphili.
Construction of the fountain began between 1647-51 and represents four rivers from different continents, the Danube (Europe), Nile (Africa), Ganges (Asia) and Rio della Plata (Americas). Bernini sort the help of several sculptors to complete the River Gods ; the Ganges (by Claude Poussin), Nile (by Giacomo Antonio Fancelli), Danube (by Antonio Raggi il Lombardo) and Rio della Plata (by Francesco Baratta).

Pope Innocent X originally requested that the travertine and marble fountain be constructed by well known architect Francesco Borromini (Bernini's arch rival) but it was eventually handed to Bernini, after some clever scheming. Bernini was not at all liked by Pope Innocent X, due mainly to Bernini's close association with his predecessor Pope Urbanus VIII and his failure with the St Peter's Belltowers. Good friend, Prince Niccolo Ludovisi, suggested to Bernini that he create a model for the intended fountain and have it strategically placed in the Pamphili Palace where the Pope was sure to see it. The plot worked. On seeing the model, the Pope simply had to have it and despite his dislike for the artist gave the job to Bernini. It doesn't finish there.

Bitter Rivalry : As a bit of spiteful revenge for losing commissions to the Pope preferred architect Francesco Borromini, it is rumored that Bernini deliberately made the Río de la Plata River God appear to be raising its arms up as if preparing to protect himself from the "unstable" facade of the Church of Sant' Agnese (facing the fountain), which Borromini built. To add the final pinch of insult, the statue representing the Nile, is covering his head as if to avoid seeing the sight. This is long been disputed as Borromini didn't start work on the church until long after the fountain was erected. It still makes a great story for the local tour guides.

Trivia : Pope Innocent X raised the taxes on bread to pay for the Four Rivers fountain despite the terrible famine of 1646-1648 . The masses were not happy, they cried fowl declaring ; "Noi volemo altro che Guglie e Fontane. Pane volemo: pane, pane, pane!"
Loosely translated into ; "We don't need spires and fountains. Bread we want: bread, bread, bread".

During the liberation of Italy the Piazza was used as a camp for allied soldiers who removed the fingers from the statues and took them home as souvenirs.

Works of Gian Lorenzo Bernini :

Fountain of the Moor, Piazza Navona, Rome, Italy.

Fountain of the Moor


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