A Tourist in Rome - Fountain of the Four Rivers

Location:Center of Piazza Navona
Metro:None, perhaps Spagna. An alternate is to take Bus 40 or 64 (get off at Piazza San Panteleo, 2 stops past Piazza Venezia, then walk north from there).
Time:about 30 minutes
Hours:Viewable at any time

The Fountain of the Four Rivers is located at the center of Piazza Navona, supporting the Agonal Obelisk. The fountain is a masterpiece of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, a beautiful example of the dramatic effects of baroque artists. Water flows and splashes from varied places in the fountain, slapping on jagged edges of travertine marble, and coming out of piercings in the disordered jumble of stone. Designed for Pope Innocent X, and unveiled on June 12, 1651, the fountain consists of a basin at ground level from which travertine rocks rise to support four burly river gods above them, representing the four great rivers of the four continents of the world that were known in 1650, and above them, the ancient Agonal Obelisk which was recovered from the Circus of Maxentius and topped with the Pamphilj emblem of a dove with an olive twig. The base of the obelisk is cut through in both directions, creating the illusion that the obelisk is unsupported. The fountain is right in front of the church of St. Agnes in Agone which was built after the fountain, in 1652, and not far from the Pamphilj Palace just south of the church.

Fountain of the Four Rivers, with the Agonal Obelisk on top
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Fountain of the Four Rivers, Rio de la Plata on the left, Danube on the right
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The fountain is a theater in the round which can be walked around to see the action from various points of view. The four river gods on the fountain, surrounded by plants and animals of their respective continents, were sculpted by people other than Bernini due to time pressures to complete the fountain, but under his direction and with his touch-up where needed. They are:

In the basin under the fountain, a fish with its mouth wide open serves as one of the drains. Other fish swim in that basin.

The obelisk is magically mounted above empty space, as shown in the 2nd photo above. When the fountain was unveiled, Bernini's critics claimed the obelisk would surely fall over due to lack of support. Bernini answered this criticism by tying strings from the top of the obelisk to nearby buildings.

When compared with fountains which preceeded this one, such as the Big Fountain (1610), the Moses Fountain (1585), and the Fountain in Piazza Campitelli (1589), this fountain was revolutionary in its inventive depiction of characters and the interplay of water with those characters and their surroundings. A hundred years later, this same style of presentation would be used in the queen of all foutains in Rome, the Trevi Fountain (1762).

The Danube
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The Nile
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The Ganges
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The Rio de la Plata
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See also:
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