From aqueducts to Big-noses
Rome started to be an ancient metropolis, one of the first, when aqueduct was built.
The new acces to water allowed the city to serve public fountains, bathrooms and thermae, private houses (only few privileged people) and slowly conducted it to the state of conurbation. In fact, during the Augustean Age, Rome was populated by almost one million inhabitants, reaching the dimension of 1700000 inhabitants in the Antonine age. With 11 aqueducts built from 312a.c., Pro capite water availability was in Ancient Rome nearly double compared with the daily one. Romans were in love with water and they used it as a symbol of magnificence and prosperity, hundreds of public and monumental fountains, bathrooms, swimming pools and thermal complex were the principal public benefits offered to the Rome’s citizens. Water was also used in mass entertainment games as the naval battles called Naumachia.
During Popes period, water was one of the most used propaganda tools: the Pope himself used to provide water to citizenship, by building big monumental fountains fiercely exposing symbols and heraldry of his family. Some of the most beautiful monuments to water were built in this period in Rome, by the so famous figures of the papal architects.
One of those architects, who lived in the Baroque period, was Gian Lorenzo Bernini: rumors says that for the commission of the Fountain of the Four Rivers (originally commissioned to Borromini, his rival) Bernini did a model 1:20 in pure silver, that later he gave as a gift to the sister in law of Pope Innocenzo X Pamphili. At that time, Bernini was kicked out from pontifical affairs, being the protected and the architect of Urbano VIII Barberini, hated by Pope Pamphili. Bernini also failed in the construction of the two bell towers to be added to the façade of San Peter Cathedral. He was fired when, still in construction, the first one fall down killing several workers. This facts didn’t help him increasing his consideration inside the pontifical affairs.
The fountain is at the center of Piazza Navona, in front of Santa Chiara, built by Borromini. An ancient tale says that the statue of one of the fountain’s four rivers ( Rio de la Plata ), that is represented protecting itself with its arms staring at the doorbell, is in this position for fear that the facade of Sant’Agnese in Agone collapses on it.
It is also recounted that Borromini answered to his old master, placing a statue of Sant’Agnese right on the side of the bell, reassuring people and the statue of Bernini with her gestures. This legend is unfortunately a false anachronism, being the fountain built before the church (1648/51 – 1652 ) even if this funny anecdote is interesting and completely in line with the history of rivalry between two of the bigger masters of architecture and the “game of thrones” behind the construction of monuments and fountains in Roman Baroque.
Nowadays you can easily find public water in Rome. It’s freely distributed [and dispersed] from an incredible number of Fontanelle and from our beloved Nasoni (meaning big-noses) that became a symbol of Rome. There are more then 200 nasoni placed everywhere in Rome, you can’t walk in the center without crossing 3 or 4 of them, frequently crowded of thirsty tourists or children playing with water.
This reality is in danger, nasoni are disappearing or getting dry due to recent urban policies and new plastic gazebos that freely distribute water ( still and sparkling ) and provide a recharge point for smartphones (!?). Wasting water is not surely a scenario to be pursued but maybe there is the way to maintain and enhance what is already a symbol and an excellent urban benefit.
Author: Rotating Editor Rome