When I first came to Rome, I did all the touristy things and spent hours wandering the tiny lanes, visiting piazzas and admiring monuments. Then real life and plain ol’ laziness took over. Having guests last week (who seemed to appreciate all my cleaning efforts and brought a hefty supply of goodies so they can come again) pushed me into becoming a tourist once more. I think I’ve become a bit blasé about the sights of Rome and I’m not a real art lover so many of the treasures are probably lost on me. After visiting four or five churches, they start to all look the same. And seen one Caravaggio, seen them all. However, I do appreciate a decent cappuccino, a nice fountain or man dressed up as a Centurion.
So, first stop on the tour: Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) in Piazza Navona in downtown Rome. It was designed in 1651 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (a name you hear a lot in Rome) for Pope Innocent X.
The rivers represented by four giant figures at the base of the fountain are the Nile (Africa), the Danube (Europe), the Ganges (Asia) and the Plate (Americas). An ancient obelisk, topped with a dove holding an olive twig, rises up through the centre of the fountain. I don’t know why the Tiber wasn’t chosen as one of the rivers but if you know, please send your answers on a postcard to the usual address.
The Nile’s head is covered with a cloth because, at that time, no one knew where its source was. The Danube touches the Pope’s personal coat of arms, as the river closest to Rome. The Ganges carries a long oar, representing the river’s navigability. And the Plate is sitting on a pile of coins, a symbol of the riches America could offer to Europe.
Piazza Navona also has two other fountains: Fontana del Moro (Fountain of the Moor) and Fontana del Nuttuno (Fountain of Neptune) but Fontana dei Quatrro Fiumi is the most notable. It’s usually full of tourists (the piazza, not the fountain), overpriced restaurants and street hawkers. There’s a (pretty tacky) Christmas market in December if you’re planning on a winter visit. The Piazza is a good place for a photo opportunity and this is where Julia Roberts sat in Eat, Pray Love, eating gelato and looking smug. Probably because she’d managed to learn fluent Italian in six weeks and bag herself a hot Italian lover – two things in which I’ve failed miserably…