Fontana De Trevi

 Three coins in the fountain
 Each one seeking happiness
 Thrown by three hopeful lovers
 Which one will the fountain bless?
 Make it mine, make it mine, make it mine.

The visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK, from Thursday, the 16th to Sunday, the 19th  September 2010 harked back to the memories of my youthful visit to the Vatican and Rome, especially the unforgettable ‘Fontana de Trevi’.

The UK is the least devout country the pope has visited. There were several thousand people  from Europe to get a glimpse of the Pope. There were also five thousand protesters,  a coalition of atheist, humanists, gay rights’ campaigners and protesters against child abuse. The Pope delivered the most important speech of his historic visit in the Westminster Cathedral Hall (mother church of the Roman Catholic community) on September 17 2010. He strongly criticised the “marginalisation” of Christianity in modern Britain, claiming that churchgoers were forced to act against their conscience in the name of secular equality—what he calls “aggressive secularism”. “Faith and reason needed one another for the good of civilisation.” He condemned the “unspeakable” crimes of abusive clerics—“I also acknowledge with you the shame and humiliation which all of us have suffered because of these sins.”  First though briefly, who is the Pope?

The Pope (Latin = papa; a child’s word for Father) is the leader of the world’s Roman Catholic Church. Catholics call him “Holy Father”. He is also the Bishop of Rome. The office of the pope is known as Papacy and his eccliasitical jurisdiction is often called the “Holy See” or “Apostle See” on the basis that the Apostles, Saint Peter and Saint Paul were martyred in Rome. He is the spiritual and administrative head of the Roman Catholics, and the head of state of the Vatican City State of 110 acres—a “sovereign city-state” in Rome, which was granted by Mussolini in 1929 to support his war efforts.

Who is a Catholic? A Catholic is one who accepts the precepts of the Roman Catholic faith. The central component of Catholic worship is the “Eucharist”.  Eucharist (Greek) or the Last Supper—the final meal that Jesus shared with his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion, during which he gave them bread, saying, “This is my body”, and wine, saying, “This is my blood”. The Roman Catholic Church is the world’s largest Christian church, claiming over a billion members (about the same as Muslims).

What is a church? The English word “church” is probably most often used to refer to a building, with a typical architectural design, inside of which, you will find pews, the elevated pulpit, the communion table and the usual bits and bats of material requirements in place. King James, who was the head of the Church of England, ensured that his “church” got some biblical recognition—because he ordered to put the word “church” in King James’ translation of the Bible, in place of the Greek word “ekklesia” (spelled ‘ecclesia’ in English, meaning ‘assembly’. The English bible was translated from the Greek bible.

Those of you who are as old as me, will remember the very popular song introduced in the 1954 film of that name—“Thee Coins in the Fountain”, which received the Academy Award for Best original song. The story refers to the act of throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain (Fontana de Trevi in Italian) by three girls. I went to see this fountain in Rome in 1968. The artistic work of this fountain is so famously romantic that Hollywood captured it in the “Three Coins in the Fountain” with Jean Peters, and in the Italian film (La Dolce Vita = the sweet life) with voluptuous Anita Ekberg.

Fontana de Trevi is one of the most famous fountains in the world at the centre of Rome, within walking distance of the Spanish Steps (a great tourist spot of 138 steps). The name comes from its place, situated at the junction of three roads (tre vie). It is a fantastic work of Baroque art (an artistic style prevalent in the late 16th to 18th century in Europe), with fantastic creatures embodying the movement of the soul of the world with the sound of gushing water among the light and shade effects on the marble—a symbolic representation of the great force of nature in the tumultuous spring that seems to flow out of the ground. Even the Palace (Plazzao Poli) in the background blends perfectly with the composition of the fountain.

Here is a legend that if a visitor throws a coin into the fountain he/she is ensured a return to Rome. The other legend has it that it brings your dream true to throw three coins with the right hand over one’s left shoulder standing back turned to the Trevi Fountain (made popular by the film). 

The central feature of the fountain monument is a chariot in the shape of a shell, on which Neptune stands, drawn by seahorses with Tritons (mythological Greek gods, the messenger of the sea) as their guides. It is 25.9 meters high and 19.8 meters wide. The Romans had a custom of building a beautiful fountain at the end point of an aqueduct that brought water to Rome. This is the terminal point of Aqua Virgo, one of the ancient aqueducts that supplied water to ancient Rome.

In 19 BC, commissioned by Augustus, supposedly with the help of a virgin, Roman engineers located a source of water about 13km (8 miles) from the city. The scene is presented on the present fountain’s façade. The Aqua Virgo supplied water into the thermal bath of Agrippa and thereafter served Rome for more than 400 years. (Agrippa was a Roman general, son-in-law and Defence minister to Octavian, the future emperor Caesar Augustus. He was responsible for most of the victories of Caesar, most notably winning the battle of Actium against the forces of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra.

The fountain and the aqueduct were destroyed by Goth besiegers in 537/38. And the Romans lived on dirty water drawn from wells and River Tiber, which was also used as a sewer. (Goths were a group of East Germanic tribes, who played an important role in the history of Roman Empire).

In 1453 Pope Nicholas V finished mending Aqua Virgo aqueduct and built a simple basin to the fountain. It went on functioning in a sombre mood until the 18th century when Pope Clement XII decided to restore the Trevi district and began work on the fountain. The result is this magnificent fountain we see today. The fountain was finished in 1762 after three centuries.

The theme of the fountain in this gigantic scheme is ‘Taming the waters’ that tumble forward, mixing water and rockwork and filling the small square, Tritons guide Oceanus’ shell chariot, taming hippocampus. The tritons and horses provide symmetrical balance.

An estimated 3,000 euros (180,000 Indian rupees) are thrown into the fountain every day by tourists. The money (or whatever is left by the thieves) has been used to subsidise a supermarket for Rome’s needy.

The writer is based in the UK.
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