The thing that grabs me most about the Trevi Fountain Rome is the sound of the rushing water.
I hear it just before I see the fountain and it always fills me with a sense of excitement, knowing what's around the corner.
Because the huge fountain is in such a small space, it's simply breath-taking to come upon this little plaza from one of the small streets leading up to it, and see all at once the beautifully carved god Oceanus and his water horses bursting out of the huge basin of clear turquoise water.
But why was the fountain put in such a small space? And what is that building behind it? And why do people throw money into the basin?
Here’s what you need to know about visiting the Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi):
Trevi Fountain History, Architecture, and Facts
How to Visit the Trevi Fountain Rome
When people ask what is the big fountain in rome, the most famous fountain in Rome, perhaps the most romantic fountain in Rome, they are usually referring to the Trevi Fountain.
The Trevi Fountain was immortalized in Federico Fellini's classic Italian movie, La Dolce Vita, starring Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg. (In 1996 the fountain was turned off and draped in black crepe to honor Mastroianni after his death. )
The famous fountain also made an appearance in other iconic films such as Jean Negulesco's Three Coins in a Fountain, William Wyler's Roman Holiday, and the Julia Roberts movie Eat, Pray, Love.
The Trevi Fountain is a monumental fountain, meaning it marks the end of a Roman aqueduct.
The fountain is made almost entirely of Travertine marble (which is not really a marble but a porous stone). Travertine means "from the Tiber." It's the same stone used to build the Colosseum.
The Trevi Fountain you see today in Rome took over 100 years to build.
This is because it had stops and starts due to budget constraints and changes in popes and thus architects over the years.
But even if the fountain you see today was completed in the 18th century, its history goes back more than 2,000 years.
General Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (first Roman Emperor Augustus' right-hand man) constructed an aqueduct in 19 BCE to help bring water to the thermal baths near the Pantheon.
That aqueduct ended in a plain little fountain where the church of Saint Ignatius stands today.
The aqueduct was called Aqua Virgo, meaning "Virgin Water". Its name today is Acqua Vergine.
A legend says it was named for a young maiden (virgin) who showed some Roman soldiers where the spring was.
You can see this scene depicted in bas-relief on the right hand side of the fountain above Oceanus' head.
More likely the word "virgo" referred to the purity of the water.
This aqueduct was one of 11 Roman aqueducts and was one of the main sources of water for the Romans until the Ostrogoths sacked the city in 537 and destroyed (almost) all the aqueducts and fountains.
While the Goths did a lot of damage, there was still a little water coming in from the Acqua Vergine.
So even during those dark times until the aqueducts were fully restored in the late 16th century, there was this one small source of clean water for Romans to use in their daily lives.
Besides this water source, the Romans also got water from the Tiber river. Ick.
In any case, part of the destruction resulted in the water pipe no longer reaching its original destination at the baths behind the Pantheon.
Instead, the water came out of a lead pipe right at this intersection of three streets where the Trevi Fountain is today, below the Quirinal Palace.
In the early Renaissance, some popes began restoring fountains.
This is why almost all the big fountains in Rome have a papal shield on them, to let you know who was responsible.
The aqueducts were still not fully restored and the water pressure was not great, but at least things were not as bad as they were in the Middle Ages and popes could dedicate some of their time building or rebuilding things to leave as a legacy to their time in power.
The first fountain on the site of the current Trevi Fountain was designed by Leon Battista Alberti in 1453 under Pope Nicholas V.
The fountain had three outlets and poured into a rectangular basin. It was marked with a wall plaque naming the pope and the aqueduct.
For nearly 100 years, this was the only supply of clean water in Rome.
The first pope to start thinking about what would become the fountain we see today was Pope Urban VIII (Barberini), who was a big fan of Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
In the 16th century, popes had begun living in the Quirinal Palace up on the Quirinal Hill.
The pope's bedroom looked down on this little intersection.
When Pope Urban VIII moved into the palace, he did not think his view was interesting enough.
In 1629, he asked Bernini to draw some sketches for a new fountain so he could have something nicer to see out his window.
But the pope also had other priorities like waging war against the duchy of Parma. He spent most of the Papal State's money on this war and so the fountain project languished due to lack of funds.
Bernini did get to do a little bit of work on this project before he was forced to abandon it.
He began by clearing out some old houses which resulted in the creation of a small square. He then turned the existing fountain 90 degrees south so that the new fountain could be more easily seen from the Quirinal Palace.
Bernini got so far as to build two huge semicircular basins, one inside the other. He also placed a base in the center, presumably to support a decorative sculpture.
Bernini had nothing to do with the central sculpture group we see today, but you can see his influence in the final design: a mix of nature and whimsy, a lot like his Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in Piazza Navona.
For the next hundred years or so, several popes half-heartedly thought about getting this fountain project going.
It was not until 1732 that the Trevi Fountain entered the final stretch of its creation.
Pope Clement XII held a contest to select a new architect for the fountain and Nicola Salvi won.
Nicola (Niccolò) Salvi is the architect most credited with the current design of the Trevi Fountain.
Unfortunately, he died when it was only half-way finished, so he also did not see its completion.
The last architect to put the final touches on the fountain was Giuseppe Pannini.
The Trevi Fountain was finally completed and inuagurated in 1762, even though it was already a working fountain long before then.
When you come upon the square where the Trevi Fountain is, you'll see that the square itself is not so big. In fact, the fountain seems to take up most of it.
The square is an unusual shape, like a kind of theater, allowing a lot of people at once to get a very good look at this gorgeous fountain from all angles.
As you've read above, the fountain did not start out this size. The original "fountain" was just a lead pipe bringing fresh water into Medieval Rome via the Acqua Vergine.
In the 17th and 18th centuries this giant fountain was designed so the pope could have something beautiful to look at from above.
But not longer after that, when popes were not living in the Quirinal Palace any more, it didn't matter if buildings grew back up around this little square. And so they did.
The name of Trevi probably comes from the Latin tres viae, or tre vie in Italian, which means "three ways." The fountain stands at the crossroads of 3 streets.
There is another possibility to explain the name of the famous fountain - The aqueduct passed through a small town outside of Ancient Rome called Trebium.
The Roman goddess Diana, was sometimes called Trivia. She was the protector of roadways, in particular, three-way crossroads.
The artists and architects who proposed ideas for the Trevi Fountain over the centuries came up with a lot of different looks, some of them involving obelisks or tall columns.
The winning project took its inspiration from the 16th century Fontana dell'Acqua Paola on the Gianicolo Hill (Trastevere).
The central figure of Oceanus was designed by sculptor Pietro Bracci (who also made beautiful angels you can see in the loggia of Santa Maria Maggiore.)
Note the exedra behind him.
This apse-like hollow is right out of ancient Rome.
And the ancient-Rome inspired columns that surround Oceanus are noteworthy because they are not attached to the walls of the exedra.
This allows for a more 3-dimensional look, and better light/shadow composition.
There are a lot of sculptures in the background of the Trevi Fountain. Here's what they mean:
The main figure in the centre of the Trevi Fountain is the god Oceanus, not Neptune as many think. Neptune almost always carries a triton (like a three-pronged spear), and has a dolphin nearby.
Oceanus represents a huge river that flows all around the earth, and from which all other bodies of water are formed.
There are two horses (actually they are called "hippocamps", from Greek mythology, and are really half horse, half fish.)
Each of these sculptures is held by a Triton (Tritons are gods of the sea, and sons of Poseidon).
One horse seems quite riled and strong, and the other docile and calm. These represent the moods of the seas.
There are two statues on either side of Oceanus: On the left is Abundance, represented by the basket of fruit she is holding, and on the right, is Salubrity, or health, symbolised by the laurel wreath around her head (Apollo's plant), and the snake wrapped around her legs (from Greek mythology.)
Moving your eyes upward, you can see two reliefs on either side of the exedra where Oceanus stands.
The relief on the left shows Agrippa commanding his generals to build the aqueduct.
The relief on the right tells the story of the virgin maiden who showed the Roman soldiers where to look for water.
Further still up the fountain sculpture, you can see four goddesses that represent earth's bounty thanks to water. If you go to either side of the fountain, you can really see in great detail the items they are holding.
It is curious to be looking up at the Trevi Fountain and sometimes see silhouettes of people in the windows on either side of the fountain. One wonders, how did those people get in there?
Originally the palazzo belonged to the Duke of Conti, who came from a town not far from Rome called Poli. (Even today the building is called Palazzo Poli.)
The area called "Dante Hall", which now overlooks the Trevi Fountain, was home to an enormous and valuable library and art collections, and eventually was used to hold lavish parties for Rome's upper-crust society.
The palazzo passed through several wealthy families but eventually it became property of the city of Rome. Today it houses the National Institute for Graphic Art.
Just a stone's throw away from the Trevi Fountain Rome, you can visit the original site of the source of the water that fills the Trevi Fountain, the "Acqua Vergine", or Virgin Water Aqueduct.
At the Vicus Caprarius (named for the Ancient Roman street that passed here), there are remains of ancient Roman houses there, along with other Roman artefacts.
The ruins were found when they were renovating a movie theater (ex Cinema Trevi) on this spot. "La Città dell'Acqua", which means "city of water", is on vicolo del Puntarello 25.
I don't really suggest you use your pass for this site, as admission is very inexpensive. There is usually no need to book in advance, but if you are really interested in this site, I suggest you take a tour.
Romans love their superstitions.
A well-known one, which originated in the 1954 film "Three Coins in the Fountain", goes like this:
If you throw a coin with your right hand, over your left shoulder, into the Trevi Fountain Rome, then you will be guaranteed to return to Rome one day.
Supposedly, tossing in two coins means you will fall in love AND return to Rome.
And of course, the myth of the 3-coin toss that the movie is named for - If you toss three coins into the Trevi Fountain (always using your right hand and throwing it over your left shoulder), you will marry the person you met.
About 3,000 Euros worth of coins are tossed into the Trevi Fountain in Rome every day.
People used to try to steal the coins out of the fountain, but they have really cracked down and now it's next to impossible. The fines are also quite hefty.
You'll be glad to know those coins are put to excellent use: The fountain is cleaned out once a week, and the money given to the Italian charity, Caritas, which spends the Trevi Fountain money to fund a low-cost grocery store for the needy.
Does the Trevi Fountain close?
You can visit the Trevi Fountain Rome 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. You can even visit it right now from your armchair with the Trevi Fountain live cam.
Does the Trevi Fountain have an admission price?
It's absolutely free to visit the Trevi Fountain.
There are things nearby you can visit however. For more, visit our complete Trevi Fountain Neighborhood guide.
As I described above on this page, the Trevi Fountain is really huge for the space it's in, so there is not a lot of room for people to gather and look at it.
This is one reason why it's often so crowded.
It can be hard to get a good photo, or a great view to yourself.
There is no secret to seeing this fountain with hardly any crowds:
I never like having to tell people what NOT to do, but there are a few important things you should know:
The Trevi Fountain is fairly accessible. The surrounding piazza is mostly flat cobblestone. If you are completely wheelchair-bound, you will not be able to go down the stairs to where the basin is, but you can get excellent views from the main level anyway.
When it's crowded, it can be hard to see the Trevi Fountain so you may want to try to come very early in the morning so you can enjoy the view without having so many heads in your way.
The Trevi Fountain is in Piazza di Trevi in Rome's historic center (centro storico.)
Its location makes it one of the most central must-see sites in Rome, and very easy to get to and from a lot of the other must-see sites such as the Piazza Venezia, Piazza Navona, Spanish Steps, Pantheon (all about 10 minutes' walk away), and the Colosseum and Piazza del Popolo (both about 30 minutes' walk away.)
Below you can see the location of the Trevi Fountain on a map of Rome. You can click to zoom in or out and enlarge the map if you like.
No vehicles are allowed onto the square where the Trevi Fountain is.
But you can get close.
The City Sightseeing bus tours all have a stop nearby and you can walk there.
If coming by Metro, take the red line A to the Barberini metro stop.
Once you get out of the metro, go downhill, taking via degli Avignonesi straight to via in Arcione and finally to via del Lavatore.
As you walk along via del Lavatore, approaching the fountain, you will hear the sounds of the water (and usually the crowds.)
You can also reach the Trevi Fountain on foot from the red line A Spagna stop.
To go by bus to Trevi Fountain, just take one of many that stop on via del Tritone, the large street behind Palazzo Poli.
This stop is just one block away from the Trevi Fountain.
Buses include: 52, 53, 62, 63, 71, 80, 83, 85, 160, 175, and 492. The stop is called "TRITONE/FONTANA DI TREVI."