Fontana della Barcaccia in Rome

The Fountain of the Old Boat or Fontana della Barcaccia in Italian, is one of the most famous fountains in Rome, located in the city historical center, in Piazza di Spagna at the foot of the Spanish Steps. Commissioned by Pope Urbano VIII to Pietro Bernini and his son, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the Fountain of the Old Boat represents one of the finest example of Baroque art and hides a really unique story behind its construction.

Fontana della Barcaccia near the Spanish Steps Rome
Location: near Piazza di Spagna
Tickets: Not Needed
Accessibility: Accessible
Kid-friendly Attraction

Origins of the Fountain

The construction of the Fontana della Barcaccia was part of a major city plan which placed fountains at the center of the Rome’s main squares to celebrate the restoration of the great Acqua Vergine Aqueduct, originally built in 19 B.C. by Marcus Vispanius Agrippa.
Thus, between 1627 and 1629 Pietro Bernini built the fountain driving inspiration from a very singular shape, the low flat-bottomed river boats usually used to carry cargoes across the Tiber in the 17th century.

Fontana della Barcaccia Legend

According to legend, when on Christmas 1598 Rome was devastated by a great flood of the Tiber River, a boat was stranded by the flood to the very center of the square and left in that exact spot when the water eventually receded. Stories say Pietro Bernini drove inspiration from this event to build the Fountain of the Old Boat 30 years later.
Looking closely at the fountain, you’ll notice that it is slightly below the street level. Bernini found this expedient to overcome the problem of law water pressure from the Acqua Vergine Aqueduct.

Fountain of the Old Boat Quick Facts

1The Fountain of the Old Boat features two singular ornamentation, a sun and a bee, which were both symbols of the Bernini’s family;

2Last restoration of the fountain occurred in 2014, thanks to a private donation of 200,000€;

3On February 2015 the fountain was sadly damaged by a group of Dutch football hooligans, probably under the influence of alcohol. The group stepped into the fountain and rubbish it before clashing with the local police. After the event, authorities reported that the newly restored masterpiece presented 110 slashes.

4Completed in 1629, the Fountain of the Old Boat was about to play a significant role in Keats life 200 years later. Indeed, the poet was affected by tuberculosis and lived next to Spanish Steps the last days of his life. In his works he recalls how he took comfort from the sound of the Barcaccia’s flowing water.