The spritely “Fontana delle Tartarughe,” Fountain of the Turtles, is located in the Piazza Mattei in the Jewish Ghetto of Rome. Beautifully expressive while quite intriguing, the late Renaissance sculpture is one of the few fountains that were not built for a pope, but for a private patron. However, from the beginning, this particular little fountain also encountered a big problem.
Originally, the fountain had several dolphins around the base, some of which were designed to spew drinking water up and out toward the public and landing in a large basin. However, because the fountain’s water source, a reservoir near the Piazza Spagna, was not much higher than the fountain, the water pressure was insufficient. As a result, four of the dolphins were removed, leaving the figures of the adolescent boys with nothing for their upstretched hands to support. To correct this, four bronze tottering turtles, designed by Bernini, were placed on top of the vasque rim to balance the composition.
As you watch the altered fountain today, you will notice a single upward jet of water in the vasque that trickles down through the mouths of the cherubs and into a lower basin. From there, four small streams trickle through the dolphin’s mouths and into awaiting conch shells. It was from here that the surrounding neighborhood collected their drinking water. Originally, a Roman sarcophagus sat next to the fountain filled with water to discourage horses from drinking out of the fountain.
Interesting to note, you can catch a few glimpses of the fountain in the movie, The Talented Mr. Ripley. But I suggest that, next you find yourself in Rome, look up the fountain and watch the water trickle down through it’s many portals to the waiting conch shells. Dip your thermos into the clear pool of water and enjoy some of Rome’s very best.
If you are like me, you love the fountains of Rome. Which one is your favorite? And why?