Rome is cherub-lovers’ heaven.

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Spotted in the Vatican Gardens.

 

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Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) is a fountain in the Piazza Navona in Rome, Italy. It was designed in 1651 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for Pope Innocent X whose family palace, the Palazzo Pamphili, faced onto the piazza as did the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone of which Innocent was the sponsor.

The base of the fountain is a basin from the centre of which travertine rocks rise to support four river gods and above them, an ancient Egyptian obelisk surmounted with the Pamphili family emblem of a dove with an olive twig. Collectively, they represent four major rivers of the four continents through which papal authority had spread: the Nile representing Africa, the Danube representing Europe, the Ganges representing Asia, and the Río de la Plata representing the Americas.

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This fountain has always been a work of rumour and innuendo. The most famous being….. the statue representing the Rio de la Plata – one of the four rivers in the fountain in Piazza Navona – raises its right arm instinctively to protect itself from the collapse of the beautiful church of Saint Agnes in Agone, which stands with its two towers and beautiful dome only a few meters from the sculpture.

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In fact, the fountain – with its statues, large rocks and obelisk – was erected in 1651, when the church had not yet been built (construction began in 1652). The rumour about the statue was sparked by the well-documented rivalry between the famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini, author of the fountain, and the great architect Francesco Borromini, who designed the church. The Rio de la Plata’s gesture was misinterpreted to express Bernini’s belief that the sacred building was bound to collapse, posing a risk for his monumental fountain.

Many, many buildings with such 'atmosphere'.

Many, many buildings with such ‘atmosphere’.

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Atmospheric trattoria in the Lazio district, near to the Roman Forum.

 

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Beautifully restored fountain near Piazza Navorna, Rome.

 

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Arbitrary columns with cherubs nesteld on one of Rome’s main thoroughfares – Via Nazionale.

A tourist staple – the Trevi Fountain….

 

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You will not find any other place in the world that celebrates the ever-mutating and incredible power of water like Rome. The Trevi Fountain is a fantastic work of art that is much more than a mere sculpture. This triumphant example of Baroque art with its soft, natural lines and fantasy creatures embodies movement as the soul of the world. The fountain is a true wonder, a jewel of water and stone that is nestled between the palaces of the historic centre of the city.

You can already hear its presence from the nearby streets. Indeed, as you get nearer the sound of its gushing waters grows constantly more intense, reaching a crescendo in the square, where you will find the most breathtaking sight. Suddenly, the space seems to open out and you stand before a symbolic representation of this great force of nature, a tumultuous spring that seems to flow out of the ground.
The light and shade effects on the marble make the wind seem to bellow through the drapes and locks of the statues, agitating the waves, creating an extraordinarily intense and spectacular scene. In this Baroque creation, the architecture itself seems to come alive with the current of the revitalising waters.

This unique statue has an ancient history. Its origins go back to Roman timesand it was the terminal point of the Aqua Virgo aqueduct commissioned by Augustus, which was used to provide water for the thermal baths. The water that flows here has two names: Virgin Waters and Trevi. The first refers to an ancient legend about a young Roman girl who showed the source of the spring to some thirsty soldiers; whereas Trevi derives from the old name for the area,which was originally called Trebium.

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The aquaduct continued to function, even though it was necessary to wait until the eighteenth century when Pope Clement XII decided to restore the Trevi district and began work on the fountain we know today. It took three centuries to complete and is often attributed to Bernini, but for the most part it is the work of the Roman architect, Nicola Salvi, who took twenty years to complete it.

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This work of art is so famous that even cinema has commemorated it on more than one occasion. Everyone remembers the scene in the renowned Italian film, “La Dolce Vita” by Fellini; on a quiet night in an almost unreal Rome, an alluring Anita Ekberg jumps into the Trevi Fountain with her clothes on and invites Marcello Mastroianni to join her.

There is also another curious tradition regarding the Trevi Fountain. It is said that if you throw a coin over your shoulder into the water, you will be sure to return to Rome. An estimated 3,000 euros in coins are thrown into the fountain every day.

That’s stacks of tourists coming back. No wonder Rome is so crowded!

Many, many years ago we were told by a vetreran traveller - "always look up when you're sight-seeing". Well I did, and here was this plaque on a building in ventral Lazio, Rome.

Many, many years ago we were told by a veteran traveller – “always look up when you’re sight-seeing”. Well I did, and here was this plaque on a building in ventral Lazio, Rome.

 

We had heard about the famous Mattei/Bernini ‘Turtle Fountain’ and asked our accommodating taxi driver to take us there – right in the heart of the Jewish Quarter..

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The beautiful Turtle Fountain (‘Fontana delle Tartarughe’, in Italian) is served by the same aqueduct, called Acqua Vergine, that reached the Trevi Fountain in 1570.

It features four ephebes, in their adolescent nudity, each one holding a dolphin: the tail in one hand, and the head under the right foot. They extend their right arm towards the edge of the basin above, made in gray African marble, as if they were to hold a second dolphin (and indeed we have documents showing plans for eight sculptures, instead of the four that were actually made).

The elegance of the ephebes’ young bodies, highlighted by the fact they were cast in bronze and not sculpted in marble, was inspired by the fluid and lithe figures of the satyrs and fauns in Ammannati’s Fountain of Neptune, in Florence.

The Turtle Fountain includes four portasanta marble seashells placed on an African marble vase with a stone base, all set on a white marble stand. It was designed by Jacopo Della Porta and built in 1582, while the statues are by Taddeo Landini.

Originally meant for the nearby Piazza Giudia, where the market at the door of the Ghetto was held, the fountain was placed in Piazza Mattei by will of Duke Muzio Mattei, so it could be seen from his palace – admired for its architecture, and later noted for being the birthplace of poet Giacomo Leopardi’s mother.

According to legend, Mattei had the fountain built over a single night to impress his future father-in-law, who at the time had not yet given his consent to his daughter’s marriage. The story goes that once the wedding was arranged, the duke had the window from which the fountain had first been looked at walled up, to remember the event forever.

In 1658, during Alexander VII’s papacy, four turtles – which seem to drink from the top basin, as if upheld by the ephebes – were added at the suggestion of Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Depending on the species, turtles can live on land, in fresh water or in the sea. The size and shape of those on the fountain suggest they are specimens of ‘Caretta caretta’, also known as the loggerhead sea turtle. Bernini thus meant to underscore the relationship between marine animals, man, and seawater – a theme already expressed by the seashell-shaped basins.

Furthermore, turtles are a symbol of careful, prudent slowness – which, in his famous paradox, philosopher Zeno of Elea predicts would win even against the fastest of mythological heroes, Achilles – and thus contrast the four ephebes’ agile, flexible limbs. It is only one of the many examples of symbolism in Rome’s monuments: to mention another work by Bernini, for instance, the elephant in Piazza della Minerva bearing an Egyptian obelisk covered in hieroglyphics is a representation of physical strength supporting the intellect.

Our taxi driver told us the legend that once some thieves had stolen the turtles, but “found themselves in a cemetery”, so no one now tries to steal them!

Overlooking the Roman Forum (there are four of them) on  gloomy spring day.

Overlooking the Roman Forum (there are four of them) on gloomy spring day.

The Roman Forum, situated in the area between Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. Three thousand years ago, this valley between Campidoglio and the Quirinal, which was to become the future social and political centre of one of the greatest empires of ancient times, was submerged in marshland.

By an incredible invention of engineering, which was commissioned by the last two Etruscan kings, the so-called Cloaca Maxima, a canal that is still in function to this very day, allowed for the drainage of the land. The area soon began to develop and already at the end of the 7th century BC, it was home to many markets and a hive of social activity.

In the area around the Forum, the city was also home to markets, shops and taverns. You could also find the typical Termopolia, which were the ancient equivalent of today’s fast food restaurants. In short, the Forum was the heart and soul of city life. It was in Caesar’s time, when Rome has become the capital of a vast empire, that the Forum became a place for celebrations and in the Imperial era it was the symbol of the Empire.

In the background is the Victor Emmanuel monument - something the locals call the 'wedding cake'.

In the background is the Victor Emmanuel monument – something the locals call the ‘wedding cake’.

The most incredible panoramic view of the entire Forum complex can be seen from the magnificent terraces of Campidoglio. Here you can observe the imposing ruins of Basilica Emilia, the only remaining Republican basilica, or the Curia, which was once the seat of the Senate. Nearby you will also note three trees, a vine, fig and olive tree, cited by Pliny the Elder, which were replanted in recent times.
Starting from the Arch of Septimius Severus, the pathway winds through the most unique place in the world and passes beside the imposing Basilica di Massenzio, one of the most magnificent buildings of Imperial Rome, and ends near the Arch of Titus, where you will get a glimpse of the unmistakable Colosseum. During the Middle Ages, the Forum fell into a state of ruin and was abandoned.

We visited the Forum museum - fascinating stuff.

We visited the Forum museum – fascinating stuff.

Its monuments were often used to build medieval fortifications and at times were even completely dismantled and their materials used elsewhere. In those times, the area was used for cultivation and grazing and it took on the name of ‘Campo Vaccino’, or ‘cattle field’.
It was only in the eighteenth century that the Forum was rediscovered and finally the definitive process of the recovery of the ancient ruins began, bringing this long-forgotten and barbarically plundered historic patrimony back to life.

The fourth (and last) Forum - the Trojan. This can be called the world's first shopping centre - all  those arches contained small shops and working artisans.

The fourth (and last) Forum – the Trojan. This can be called the world’s first shopping centre – all those arches contained small shops and working artisans.

Checking out the passing scene. THese two saw their 'mistress' go off from her shop and wondered why they had not been taken along.

Checking out the passing scene. These two saw their ‘mistress’ go off from her shop and wondered why they had not been taken along.

Some street fun in Rome - this chap sharpens knives on the hop.

Some street fun in Rome – this chap sharpens knives on the hop.

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