Acqua Paola Fountain Rome

The Fontana dell’Aqua Paola is one of the most impressive fountains in Rome. It was built on the slope of the Janiculum Hill in the Trastevere district. For people who have seen the Italian movie La Grande Bellezza, the fountain is seen in the film’s opening scenes, when the Asian tourist has a heart attack.

Acqua Paola Fountain Rome

Acqua Paola Fountain Rome
Acqua Paola Fountain

The Fontana dell’Acqua Paola was commissioned by Pope Paul V Borghese and stems from the beginning of the 17th century. The Romans call it the Fontanone, which would mean something to the lines of the “Giant Fountain”.

The fountain was designed by Giovanni Fontana and Flaminio Ponzo, although the huge shell is an afterthought and was added by Carlo Fontana in 1690.

The stones that were used in its construction were taken from the Foro di Nerva. The fountain is completely made of white marble and granite and has three arches and two alcoves. At present there is one big basin, which has replaced the five smaller ones that were there when the fountain was created.

The red granite Ionic pillars connecting the gate around the fountain were taken from the first version of Saint Peter’s Basilica.

The gate was necessary in order to prevent soldiers from letting their horses drink from the fountain.

The square in front of the fountain was also constructed in 1690, by order of Pope Alexander VIII.

The Fontana Paola is the end station of the 57km long Aqua Paola aqueduct (also known as the Aquedotto Traiano), which had its beginning in the city of Bracciano (north of Rome), and was built by the Emperor Traianus in the year 109 in order to bring water to the Trastevere en Borgo districts. The design of the aqueduct was based on the Moses Fountain which was done by Giovanni Fontana‘s brother Domenico.

The first time the fountain was used the water squirted out with such strength that a marble balustrade broke and fell on the street below, a reason for Pasquino, one of Rome’s talking statues, to write a sarcastic poem about the event.

Ippolito Buzio sculpted the dragon and the eagle (symbols of the Borghese family) and the two angels on top of the fountain in 1610. The Latin inscription is a boast by Pope Paul saying that it was he who brought the water via the Acqua Alsietana aqueduct from Bracciano to Rome. (In reality this happened via the Acqua Traiana, which shows that Popes can make mistakes.)

Unfortunately the water turned out not to be very drinkable and this led to the Roman saying, “to be worth as much as the Acqua Paola”.

Later the aqueduct was lengthened and the water reached the districts of Regola and Ponte, as the fountain in the Piazza Trilussa testifies.


In the 2nd half of the 17th century the area behind the fountain was made into a botanical garden, thought in the year 1820 Pope Pius VII had them moved to the grounds of the Palazzo Corsini. From the nymphaeum of these botanical gardens one can enjoy a gorgeous view over the city.

Storage space

In the belly of the fountain there is a sort of storehouse of the city of Rome, where spare parts of other fountains and monuments are kept. This is not accessible to the public, and apparently not catalogued very well, so nobody seems to know what piece of marble belongs to what fountain.

Acqua Paola Fountain – Via Garibaldi, Rome

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