Trevi Fountain, Rome: Walking Tour from the Spanish Steps

🏢 On the right side of the square, look at the 17th-century palace of the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See, which gives the square its name. Diego Velázquez, the greatest painter of 17th-century Spain, lived here during his extended stay in Rome. In the next century, Casanova lived and worked in the embassy for a few months as a secretary until he got into trouble over a girl who lived across the square and had to flee Rome.

When the square was built, Spain and France, the most powerful countries in Europe at the time, bought significant properties here.

🇪🇸 Tour of the Spanish Square

In the 18th century, it was the turn of wealthy Britons to dominate the square. They stayed in the various luxury hotels that sprung up in the neighborhood. England was the world’s superpower at the time. Its higher classes had the habit of doing a Grand Tour of Europe, with Rome being the undeniable high point. Until the late 19th century, the  swarms of milordi (as the Romans called wealthy Englishmen, whether lords or not) on the square earned it the slang nickname ‘er ghetto dell’Ingresi ‘the English ghetto.’

From the square, wealthy guests proceeded in search of artworks and antiquities to take home with them. This practice supported the survival of the artists and traders who had established in the neighborhood. A similar occurrence happened when the square became an employment market for models employed by painters, both professional and amateur. Charles Dickens regarded the models frequented in the plaza until the late nineteenth century to be “mightily amusing.”

At the height of the Romantic era, Piazza di Spagna was the world’s cultural meeting place, bustling with Europeans, both resident and in transit, all engaged in artistic or intellectual pursuits — the goal of their visit, of course, being to study Rome’s rich ancient legacy. ‘Nothing like Rome exists anywhere else,’ wrote Stendhal in the early nineteenth century.

✝️ Collegio di Propaganda Fide

17th-century Collegio di Propaganda Fide (Latin for ‘propagation of the faith’), created during the Counter-Reformation as a headquarters for missionary work. The bulk of the building, including the simple and well-proportioned façade, is by Bernini. 

😇 Sant’Andrea delle Fratte

S. Andrea delle Fratte (‘St. Andrew in the Thickets’) by Francesco Borromini (the unimpressive façade is a later addition). 

Borromini created the majestic interior in a relatively small space. As usual, his rival Bernini’s work is not far away: two marvelous angels on either side of the high altar. The statues were meant for a bridge, but the pope deemed them too precious to be outdoors and moved here. Copies were created for the bridge.

🏡 Bernini’s House

Across the street is Palazzo Bernini, formed by two 17th-century buildings, which the well-heeled architect-sculptor bought and joined. He lived in only part of No. 11A and rented out the rest. Unfortunately, his bust and memorial tablet were placed on the wall of No. 12 by mistake.

⛽️ Modern Rome

In the last 200 years, The arrival in Rome of gigantic, new-age buildings, sprouting up sometimes in the most central or historic districts, does not lack critics. Some might say that These structures are out of place here and could even cost Rome its millennial identity. According to one famous Roman architect, “these buildings have nothing to do with this city.” On the contrary, they look like alien spaceships.’

As we get closer to the Trevi Fountain, we’ll notice the first evidence of urban expansion in Rome: the post-1870 demolition of broad areas of the city in the name of modernization. 

We’ll pass along Via del Tritone, one of the roads built by the new Italian state to imitate Paris and London.

Crossing the Triton Street

♆⛲️ The Trevi Fountain

The stunning Trevi Fountain is more than just a piece of art: it is a bright memorial of the restoration of the Acqua Vergine to Rome, which started the renovation of the whole area. For more information, you can visit the previous walk!

For about 200 years, more humble monuments served the role, during which time tales arose relating the water with desire for Rome. The original account stated whoever drank the water would return to Rome. It was eventually claimed that those who drank the water beneath the midnight moon would have to return. After the current fountain became a significant tourist attraction, the coin-tossing ritual replaced the moon custom. Today, the coins are donated to charity.

The Court of the King of the Ocean is the premise underlying this world-famous mid-18th-century opera. This carnival of marble statues has a royal air to it, while the rushing river has an oceanic sense. 

Niccola Salvi, a minor Roman architect, created the general design. Pietro Bracci, an 18th-century admirer of Bernini, formed the center group.

The Ocean brought across waves and reefs in a shell-shaped carriage driven by two sea-horses and led by Tritons, half-human, half-fish demigods, is the significant central monument. Rarely have architecture and sculpture made such effective use of natural elements such as water and rock. In the tale that lends the aqueduct its name, a relief over a niche on the right depicts a maiden pointing out the water source to Roman soldiers. Film enthusiasts will recall Anita Ekberg wading around the water challenging Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita.

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