The Fountain of The Four Rivers in Rome

The Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi) is located in Rome (Roma) at Piazza Navona. It is considered to be one of the most beautiful fountains in Italy. The fountain was created by Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini, a genius of the Baroque era.

History of creation

In the middle of the 17th century, the construction of Palazzo Pamphilj was completed on Piazza Navona. Innocent X, the Pope (Papa Innocenzo X), the head of the Pamphilj family, decided to erect an obelisk with a dove and an olive branch on its top next to the family estate. In addition, it was planned to build a fountain around the obelisk.

Fountain Of The Four Rivers in Navona Square In Rome

A competition was announced – a tender for the best architectural project, to which Bernini was not allowed. During this period, the architect supervised the construction of the bell towers on the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro). Unfortunately, cracks appeared in the towers, and due to financial problems, construction work was stopped, and the bell towers were demolished. Although the investigation proved Bernini’s innocence, his reputation was undermined. The victory was practically in the hands of Francesco Borromini, a great architect and favorite of the new Pope, but fate decreed differently.

The master nevertheless created a prototype, and Bernini’s patron, the husband of Innocent X’s niece, brought a silver model of the fountain one and a half meters high to the Pope’s dining room. He was stunned by the beauty of the architectural layout. The competition was canceled and Giovanni Lorenzo began building the masterpiece.

According to the second and more exciting version, the Pope’s decision was influenced by Olimpia Maidalchini, better known as Donna Olympia (in Rome, there is even a street named after her). She married Pamphilio Pamphili, brother of Innocent X, and was his mistress.

In any case, in this episode of his career, Bernini’s skill in punching government orders and negotiating with people, even in the most unfavorable periods of his career, manifested itself in all its glory.


The 16.5-meter obelisk dates back to the 1st century AD. It was brought to Rome by the emperor Caracalla (L’imperatore Caracalla) from Egypt. The edges of the obelisk are decorated with images of the rulers of Rome, dressed as pharaohs. This is a symbol of the superiority of the Christian faith over paganism.

The composition of the fountain are the gods of the four great rivers of that time – the Danube (il Danubio), the Ganges (il Gange), La Plata (il Rio della Plata) and the Nile (il Nilo) – which personify the parts of the world. The material of the sculpture is white marble.

God Nile has a closed face, and there are two theories of such an architectural solution. According to the first one, the architect expressed his disrespect to his rival Borromini. Opposite the statue of Nile stands his creation – the Church of Sant’Agnese (S. Agnese in Agone). Bernini allegedly claimed that the church would collapse under the gaze of the Nile. The second theory is that when the fountain was created, the river’s source was unknown.

God Nile has a closed face fountain of 4 rivers in Piazza Navona in Rome

Danube holds in his hand a scroll with carved emblems of the papacy and heraldic symbols of the Pamphilj clan. Coins lie under the statue of La Plata as a symbol of the prosperity of the New World. The Ganges holds an oar as a symbol of India’s advanced navigation.

The statues of the gods are complemented by the flora and fauna of the countries they represent. The horse seems to jump out of marble onto the Danube flower plains. Cacti and crocodiles crown the mouth of La Plata. On the east side, a lion drinks water at the roots of an African palm tree. The dragon is wrapped around the oar of the Ganges, and the dolphin and sea serpent swim in the fountain pool. The top of the obelisk is decorated with a dove holding a branch of an olive tree in its beak – another symbol of the Pamphilj clan.

Lorenzo Bernini not only conveyed the landscapes of the continents but also recreated the weather phenomena – you can see how the wind flutters the palm leaves between the Ganges and the Nile.

The fountain has a peculiarity – it is devoid of smooth lines which are signatures of Bernini’s hand. Experts believe that the great master only painted the sculpture, and his students embodied the creation.

The water in the fountain comes from the ancient aqueduct Aqua Virgo (Acqua Vergine), which gives water both to the Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi) and the Barcaccia fountain (Fontana della Barcaccia).

Besides the marble majesty of the Gods, tourists flock to the fountain to see the many street performers. In addition, the Fountain of Four Rivers attracts artists, musicians, and mimes. And on the Christmas holidays, a fair is held by the fountain.

How to get there

The closest metro stations to Piazza Navona are ‘Barberini’ (line A) and ‘Ottaviano’ (next to the Vatican Museums), but both are far from the square.

From Colosseo metro station line B take bus No.87. From Termini stop line A – bus No.70.

From Piazza Barberini, buses No.492, 30, 81, 116, and 628.

Guide, traveler, marathon runner, journalist, creator of the site ITALY FOR ME. I live in Rome and am in love with Rome. On the subject of the article, please ask questions in the comments. I try to answer everyone at least once a day.

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