Il Fontanone, aka Big Fountain

April 23, 2013 / Art & Archaeology
Rome, Lazio
fontanone1What few know is that il fontanone up on the Gianicolo hill overlooking Rome is essentially a triumphal arch modeled on ancient Roman ones by Pope Paul V, bragging right for him and his family, the Borghese… notice the dragon and eagles, symbols of this powerful aristocratic Roman family, used throughout.

Well deserved we might add… 1500+ years of no running water can get old, so he ordered that the 57 kilometers of the ancient Aqua Alsietina (2 B.C.) and Aqua Traiana (109 A.D.) aqueducts coming in from Lake Bracciano be rebuilt. More concerned with building new things rather than preserving old ruins, much of the white marble used to build the 17th century celebratory fountain was taken from the Forum of Nerva, while the four red granite columns are from the facade of the old St.Peter’s basilica (built by Emperor Constantine, ca. 330 AD).

fontanone2Unfortunately the quality of the water was dodgy to say the least, but both Rione Borgo (the medieval neighborhood around the Vatican) and Rione Trastevere finally had running water again. Romans however will still occasionally say that something of low value “vale quanto l’acqua Paola” (is as valuable as the Paola water).

That said… a pretty nifty fountain came of it.



by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

9 Responses to “Il Fontanone, aka Big Fountain”

  1. Barbara Hollowell

    Sometimes it has mildly bugged me that so few write-ups are posted for Florence, the city I most typically visit. But now that I’ll be taking a week-long class in Baroque art history in Rome this June, I’m loving the frequency of these nuggets of insight into that city! :-) Grazie mille!!

  2. Rosemary

    I know where this is! Is this the same Pope that decked Perugia in the Salt Wars and built the Rocca Paolina there?

    • GB

      Rosemary, close! That was Paul III (a Farnese), this was by Paul V (a Borghese).

  3. I THINK I know this fountain well! Is it at the bottom of Via Angelo Masina where the American Academy in Rome is located? if it’s the same, it’s definitely been cleaned up since the last time I saw it. And, thank you for the historical background!

    • GB

      Yep, that’s the one. And good eye too on it being cleaned up, Cristina! Was completely redone a few years ago.

  4. Mille grazie GB! My mother was a member of the Academy so I spent many years playing in the Gianicolo. Lots of very happy memories and so nice to now know about the origins of that beautiful monumental fountain.

  5. If you continue walking up the hill to the right of Il Fontanone, through the Porta San Pancrazio arch and into the expansive Villa Doria Pamphili park, you can see the restored aqueduct that feeds the fountain. There’s another self-laudatory inscription for the pope where the aqueduct crosses Via Aurelia Antica.


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