Alive with rushing waters commanded by an imperious Oceanus, the Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain) earned full-fledged iconic status in 1954 when it starred in 20th Century Fox's Three Coins in the Fountain. As the first color film in Cinemascope to be filmed on location, it caused practically half of America to pack their bags for the Eternal City.
From the very start, though, the Trevi has been all about theatrical effects. An aquatic marvel in a city filled with them, the fountain's unique drama is largely due to the site: its vast basin is squeezed into the tight confluence of three little streets (the "tre vie," which may give the fountain its name), with cascades emerging as if from the wall of Palazzo Poli. The conceit of a fountain emerging full-force from a palace was first envisioned by Bernini and Pietro da Cortona for Pope Urban VIII's plan to rebuild the fountain, which had earlier marked the end-point of the ancient Acqua Vergine aqueduct, created in 18 BC
by Agrippa. Three popes later, under Pope Clement XIII, did Nicolo Salvi finally break ground with his winning design.
Salvi had his cake and ate it, too, for while he dazzles the eye with Baroque pyrotechnics—the sculpted seashells, the roaring seabeasts, the divalike mermaids—he has slyly incorporated them in a stately triumphal arch (Clement was then restoring Rome's Arch of Constantine). Unfortunately, Salvi did not live to see his masterpiece completed in 1762: working in the culverts of the aqueduct 11 years earlier, he caught a cold and died.
In 2015 the fountain underwent a dramatic €2.18 million renvoation, paid for by the Rome fashion house Fendi.
Everyone knows the famous legend that if you throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain you will ensure a return trip to the Eternal City, but not everyone knows how to do it the right way. You must toss a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder, with your back to the fountain. One coin means you'll return to Rome; two, you'll return and fall in love; three, you'll return, find love, and marry.
The fountain grosses some €600,000 a year, and aside from incidences of opportunists fishing coins from the water, all of the money goes to charity.
Even though you might like to reenact Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni's famous Trevi dip in La Dolce Vita, be forewarned that police guard the fountain 24 hours a day to keep out movie buffs and lovebirds alike. (Transgressors risk a fine of up to €500.)
Around the corner, the Gelateria San Crispino (Via della Panetteria 42; 06/6793924) is the best gelato in the immediate area.