For over two thousand years fountains have provided drinking water and decorated the piazzas of Rome and other cities in the Roman Empire. In Rome in 98 AD, a Roman consul was appointed curator aquarum or guardian of the water of the city (basically, the head of the water department).
Rome alone had nine aqueducts feeding 39 monumental fountains and 591 public fountains (used to supply the people with fresh running water), not counting the water supplied to the Imperial household, baths and owners of private villas. Each of the major fountains was connected to two different aqueducts, a sort of backup system in case one failed.
Even today, Rome has more than 2000 fountains, fifty of which are National monuments, more fountains than any city in the world.
The fountains of Piazza Navona, got their water from the Acqua Vergine, with only a 23 foot drop, so the pressure was much less. Its water could only fall downward. The Trevi Fountain's architect got around this problem by lowering the fountain below street level and by letting the water cascade and tumble to add an illusion of a higher degree of water movement.
Nowadays, the fountains of Rome use both gravity and mechanical pumps to perform for the viewers.
Just like the ancient Romans, Italians today rely on aqueducts as well as modern public water systems to supply them with water. This is especially true of the Puglia aqueduct (the longest aqueduct in Europe). Started in mid-19th century, the aqueduct took nearly a century to complete and arrived in Leuca at the tip of the heel of Italy's boot. This solved the lack of water in the rain deprived South. The end of this aqueduct displays fountains and a man made 300 foot tall waterfall that cascades down to the sea. The cascade is turned on a few times each week during summer (for more about natural and man-made cascades in Italy, see this post).
In the past, fountains in Rome operated purely by gravity. The source was always higher that the fountains themselves. The higher the source, the more water pressure... enabling monumental fountains that could shoot water displays high into the air. The fountain in Piazza San Pietro was supplied by the Paola aqueduct, whose source was 266 feet above sea level, which meant it could shoot water 20 feet up in the air.
The famous Triton fountain also used high water pressure from the Aqua Felice aqueduct (130 feet above the fountain) enabled jets of water to shoot 16 feet above its conch shell.
In Rome and elsewhere in Italy, you can assume that all public fountains (the ones with spigots) are potable (drinkable) water, unless there is a sign saying "non potibile". We all thought the water from Italian fountains was fresh and tasted as good as New York City public water--known for having one of the tastiest water supplies in the U.S. They came in handy for wetting bandannas or napkins to place under out caps, to cool out arms or necks, and especially for refilling our water Thermos.
These special fountains in Rome were given the nickname nasoni (big nose). The nasoni are much smaller, usually round and stout, made of cast iron, are about three feet tall, and produce chilled fresh water. Each nasone the Roman initials S.P.Q.R. (Senatus Populous Romanus). The water for the nasoni comes from a huge reservoir in Peschiera which travels about seventy miles before emerging from the spout of a city fountain.
There are wonderful fountains all over Italy in large cities and small villages. Some are amazing feats of engineering, many contain world class sculptures, while others display the talents of their architects. Some have become day to day hangouts for the locals, to sit, gossip or have a gelato. Others are objects of art that are treasured by the world. Still others are monumental in scale and in legend... Here are a few:
The Fontana di Pretoria stands in Piazza Pretoria in Palermo. Its sculptures depict fables, monsters, and nymphs all spraying jets of water, which also falls and cascades between them.
The Fontana Greca in Gallipoli, Puglia stands near the bridge adjacent to the castle, in the stretch that connects the old town with the new part of town. This fountain is famous, because many consider it to date from the 3rd century BC which would make it the oldest fountain in Italy--although others contest this.
The Elephant of Catania standing since 1239 is the official symbol of the city of Catania in Sicily. One legend claims that when the town was first inhabited, an elephant drive away wild and dangerous animals and kept the people safe from harm. Others claim that it is a magical statue, built in Byzantine times, to protect the town from the nearby Mount Etna volcano.
The Fontane delle Tartarughe (The Turtle Fountain) is a fountain of the late Italian Renaissance, located in the Piazza Mattei, in the Sant'Angelo district of Rome, Italy. It was built between 1580 and 1588 by the architect Giacomo della Porta and the sculptor Taddeo Landini. The bronze turtles around the upper basin, usually attributed either to Gian Lorenzo Bernini or Andrea Sacchi, were added in either 1658 or 1659 when the fountain was restored.
Built in 1627, The Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Ugly Boat) is a Baroque fountain in Piazza di Spagna in Rome. It is in the shape of a half-sunken ship with water overflowing its bows. The boat shape one of the worst floods of the Tiber in 1598 when Piazza di Spagna flooded 3 feet deep. After the flood retreated, a boat was left behind in the square.
It has one of the most popular locations in all of Italy... right below the over-visited Spanish Steps. Restoration on the fountain has been carried out several times, the last being in 2014, through a private donation of €200,000. A few weeks after the unveiling, the fountain was damaged on 19 February 2015 by a group of football hooligans.
I think this is an absolutely wonderful sculpture... the Fontana delle Anfore (Fountain of the Amphora) in Villa Borghese. The artist Ciociaro, too often left in the shadows, boasts forty works scattered in different prestigious venues in the capital.
The Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune) is a fountain in Rome, Italy, located at the north end of the Piazza Navona.The fountain as it exists today was finally completed in 1878 by Antonio della Bitta, who added the imposing sculpture of "Neptune fighting with an octopus" and Gregorio Zappalà, who created the other sculptures, based on the mythological theme of the "Nereids with cupids and walruses".
The fountain was brought to worldwide attention when the film Three Coins in the Fountain was released in 1954. The story centered on the legend that if you toss a coin into the fountain with your right hand, over your left shoulder, while standing backwards, you will return to Rome someday. Originally, it was said that a thirst quenching glass of water from the Trevi Fountain would ensure good fortune and a fast return to the Eternal City. It gained more romantic popularity in 1960 with Federico Fellini's film, La Dolce Vita when Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni broke the rules and wet their passions in the fountain. Each night, the Roman Catholic charity Caritas collects the coins from the fountain, donating the cash to charities around the world. They collect well over $3000 a night from the fountain.