Monday, April 22, 2013

Fontanelle, Rome’s Little Fountains

I love travel. I love being in a new place and discovering what makes it unique, its specific charm. One of my favorite quotes is, “Travel is the one thing you buy in life that makes you richer.” Today I am feeling very rich indeed.

I’ve just spent a lovely week in Rome. It was not my first visit there and as I was meeting some friends to write; I was not focused on the tourist high points, amazing as they are, but rather on feeling like a Roman going about my daily work.

It was about a two-mile walk from my hotel in the Veneto area to my writing group at University of Washington University Rome Center near Campo dei Fiori,  just a few minutes from the Tiber River.

As I knew I would be indulging in delicious Italian cuisine all week, I vowed to walk to and from Campo dei Fiori to burn some extra calories. Walking and writing... bliss! The weather was glorious, sunny and in the seventies. I had a date with some friends at Mercato Hostaria on the campo the night before the group was to meet. This was an opportunity to familiarize myself with some walk routes and time it so I could arrive promptly the next day.

I purchased a bottle of water to store in my backpack for the walk. When I got to the restaurant, within view from our al fresco seats I could see a small fountain, nothing pretty or elaborate, with water running continuously from a down spout. As I watched, people refilled their water bottles. The vendors from the square were also filling buckets to use in their booths. Upon inquiry, our waitperson declared the water not only safe to drink but delicious. I had to try this. Not only was the water good, it was icy cold! It was not necessary to buy bottled water. 

I began to look for other fontanelle, “little fountain,” and realized they were everywhere, most are iron containers with a plain metal down spigot but some are more decorative. There are about 2,500 in Rome. The photo at the top is my personal favorite located a few steps off Campo dei Fiori on one of the charming side streets. I think the animal head is a boar.

The other name for the fountain is nasoni, “big nose”, a reference to the shape of the metal spigot. You can cover the bottom, nostril if you will, with your thumb or palm and the water will spurt through a hole in the top making a drinking fountain for those without bottles to fill.

Given the drought in many parts of the USA, I was amazed by the constantly flowing water. I was glad to learn the water is recycled. The elaborate fountains in Rome, such as Fontana di Trevi and Fontana del Pantheon get their water from aquifers as well. The height or force of the fountain spray is related to the gravity available, depending on the source for the water. Trevi was deliberately sunken to allow for more gravity and a higher spray. The fountain near the Pantheon has a gentler flow. Fascinating!

Trevi Fountain

Fountain at the Pantheon

If you are fortunate enough to visit the Eternal City, don’t hesitate to refresh yourself with a drink of icy cold, delicious water from a nasoni, a unique Roman pleasure. And then have another drink for me!



  1. Lovely post and lovely fountains, Jude. I envy you your trip to Rome and I'm glad you're making the most of it. Oh, about the animal on the fountain, it seemed to me to resemble a wolf more than a boar and given the myth about Romulus and Remus... Justathought.

  2. I considered that it might be a wolf but the nose seemed too flat and the ears too small. But I am not sure, am only sure I found it charming :>)

  3. So glad you are enjoying Rome. It's interesting how we sometimes see more when the sights are new. Everyone should travel.