Rome’s Fountain of the Four Turtles

rome turtle fountain

The spritely “Fontana delle Tartarughe,” Fountain of the Turtles, is located in the Piazza Mattei in the Jewish Ghetto of Rome. Beautifully expressive while quite intriguing, the late Renaissance sculpture is one of the few fountains that were not built for a pope, but for a private patron. However, from the beginning, this particular little fountain also encountered a big problem.

Originally, the fountain had several dolphins around the base, some of which were designed to spew drinking water up and out toward the public and landing in a large basin. However, because the fountain’s water source, a reservoir near the Piazza Spagna, was not much higher than the fountain, the water pressure was insufficient. As a result, four of the dolphins were removed, leaving the figures of the adolescent boys with nothing for their upstretched hands to support. To correct this, four bronze tottering turtles, designed by Bernini, were placed on top of the vasque rim to balance the composition.

Rome Turtle Fountain

As you watch the altered fountain today, you will notice a single upward jet of water in the vasque that trickles down through the mouths of the cherubs and into a lower basin. From there, four small streams trickle through the dolphin’s mouths and into awaiting conch shells. It was from here that the surrounding neighborhood collected their drinking water. Originally, a Roman sarcophagus sat next to the fountain filled with water to discourage horses from drinking out of the fountain.

Interesting to note, you can catch a few glimpses of the fountain in the movie, The Talented Mr. Ripley. But I suggest that, next you find yourself in Rome, look up the fountain and watch the water trickle down through it’s many portals to the waiting conch shells. Dip your thermos into the clear pool of water and enjoy some of Rome’s very best.

If you are like me, you love the fountains of Rome. Which one is your favorite? And why?

Categories: History

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24 replies

  1. The fountain holds many memories of my youth. My Italian beau who became my first husband and then ex husband went to high school nearby and he would tell me of the delicious warm pastries he and his friends would get from the cake shop near by. It is a truly special spot and lovely fountain. Now our daughters always go there when they visit Rome!

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  2. I have yet to see this fountain but looks too damn cute 😀

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  3. Susan, I’ve liked turtle ornaments for years, so I’d pick this one as my favorite. Thank you for sharing the intriguing history of it. One thing I like about all fountains is the soothing sound of running water.
    Blessings ~ Wendy

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  4. This one is cute. My persona favourite fontana in Roma is La Barcaccia in Piazza di Spagna. It was sculpted by both Bernini, Gianlorenzo and his Papà Pietro and looks like a sinking ship. The water is freddissima, just how I like it.

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  5. The monumental fontana dell’acqua Paola on Gianicolo hill is a surprising and glorious sight, and i also love the bees on the Barberini Triton, the fountain of the Naiads (on the Republica round about) is also gorgeous! And all those above. So much to see there!

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  6. I love the turtle fountain. I was delighted when I came upon on my Rome wanderings.

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  7. I love fountains and especially the old ones. Wish I had one in my back yard. 🙂 ❤

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  8. Have you read/seen the book “The Fountains of Rome” by H. V. Morton? I think it may be out of print as the publishing date of my copy is 1966. And I know the used copy I bought was not cheap. Any way it is a great book for fountain lovers, and I’m one.
    I’m not sure what year because I don’t have time to look through my journals, but I will guess 2010. I used the info and map in this book to plot my walks as a search for the fountains he writes about. I managed to find very close to all of them during my month in Rome including a rather sad number of dry ones.
    As a result of that “project,” I would have trouble picking a favorite, but I really like one made to look like a tower of books and one in Villa Borghese of a male and female (maybe tritons) bouncing a baby between them. Unfortunately when I saw it in 2012, the baby was missing it, head. Did hear from another blogger that it might be fixed by now but didn’t get to it in December.
    I’ve certainly run on like a fountain here, but must add one more comment. I never knew the Trevi was so dirty until I saw it all cleaned and shining this last trip.

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    • Yes, I agree about the Trevi! Amazing isn’t it? I walked across the ramp during restoration. J.V. Morton is a wonderful writer. I have his one about St. Paul. I would love to get ahold of this one about the fountains. And I love how you planned your route according to the location of the fountains. What a great idea. They truly hold a fascination for me too. Great to hear from you!


  9. This has been my favorite fountain since my first trip to Rome. One day, I saw 8 lab puppies playing in the fountain. Thanks for the memories! I’m ready to go back to Rome.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Another lovely fountain which I have yet to see. Although Trevi is gorgeous my favorite is the main fountain in Piazza Navonna

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