The Famous Barcaccia Fountain in Rome


Rome is widely known not only because of its rich culture and history but also because of the numerous wonderful sightseeing spots that are worth a visit. The Eternal City, as what Rome is also referred to, is also a home for beautifully designed fountains. One of which is the Barcaccia Fountain.

The Barcaccia Fountain, called in English as the Fountain of the Old Boat, was built to commemorate the great flood of the river Tiber that had happened in the Christmas of 1598. The fountain was designed by Pietro Bernini, the famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s father. Built around a century earlier than the Spanish Steps, the construction of the fountain was commissioned by the pope Urbano VIII.  Because the Pope was mesmerized by the event, he ordered the foundation of the boat and Romans called it the Barcaccia which literally means “an old ugly boat”. The fountain was constructed exactly at the place where the boat was found when the water of the great flood subsided.

Barcaccia Fountain in Rome

This Baroque style fountain is located just in front of the Spanish Steps at the Piazza di Spagna. It is also known as “Fountain of the Ugly Boat”. The fountain can be seen with symmetrical design and uses travertine as its main material. Travertine is one of the types of limestone that can be found abundantly in Tivoli. It can be derived from calcium carbonate precipitation in hot springs.

The Barcaccia Fountain has a design of a half sunken boat and was built below street level. It looks like a stranded boat with water abounding over its bows.  This uniquely designed fountain in Rome also has a low water pressure and has no water spectacle, the features that make it distinct from almost all of the fountains found in the Eternal City. The reason why the fountain has no spectacle is that the water that flows to the fountain is derived from the fresh water aqueduct called the Aqua Vergine which also has a low water pressure. Because of the low pressure of the water,

The Fountain of the Old Boat was formed in the likeness of the ancient typical ship which was used for the transportation of wine barrels through the Tiber River. The purpose behind the peculiar pattern of the fountain was more of a practical reason. Because of the low pressure of the water derived from the Acqua Vergine, the fountain has to be built below street level. The exterior portion of the fountain is decorated with the two coats-of arms of the family of Pope Urbano VIII while the interior portion is embellished with two Barberini “sun mouths” designed with water sprouting from a fan.

Pietro Bernini

The artist behind this characteristic fountain is Pietro Bernini, one of the renowned Italian sculptors in the early times. He was born, raised and trained in Sesto Fiorentino, Tuscany.  He then moved to Naples during his mid-life to work on the Certosa di San Martino, a once known monastery complex in Naples. His son, who happened to be more famous than him, was also born in Naples on 1598.  Pietro Bernini died on August 29, 1629, at the age of 67, in the Eternal City.

Among his remarkable masterpieces are the carvings of St. John the Baptist in Sant’Andrea della Valle, the carving of the coronation of Clement VIII, the marble relief Assumption of the Virgin and the embellishments of the Paolina Chapel in Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica. He also worked in Rome for a number of projects under the supervision of Pope Paul V.

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