The Fountain of The Four Rivers

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The Fountain of The Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini inaugurated in 1651. It was commissioned by Pope Innocent X and located in the Piazza Navona in Rome. Statues of the fountain symbolize four major rivers of that time: the Nile, the Ganges, the Danube, and the Rio de la Plata. Bernini’s masterpiece stands in front of the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, a work of Borromini.


Bernini is one of the most famous sculptors in history. Pope Innocent X preferred to collaborate with Francesco Borromini, while Bernini received support from the previous pope, Urban VIII. Interestingly, popes Urban VIII and Innocent X were in conflict with each other. Bernini created a model of the fountain and Innocent X agreed with it and assigned the project to him, instead of Borromini.

fountain of the four rivers

Originally, the fountain was designed to serve as a source of portable water before the age of indoor plumbing

Pope Innocent X decided to surround a slim Egyptian obelisk with the sculptures that represent four major rivers throughout the major continents. The obelisk surmounted by a dove, a symbol of the church and the Pamphilj family.


Statues of the fountain symbolize the Nile, the Ganges, the Danube, and the Rio de la Plata rivers. Moreover, each statue embodies one of the four continents of that time. It culminates in the obelisk that stands on a large plinth. This obelisk has a height of almost 35 meters (115 ft).

  • The River Ganges of Asia represents the god that looks away from the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agnone, which means a spiritual ignorance of the hedonistic world

It is important to note that the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agnone was built after the Fountain of The Four Rivers

  • The Rio de la Plata of America shows the man who throws his hands up and is the symbol of the newly converted lands. There is also a belief that because of the presence of the snake, he has a fear of losing money

The Fountain of The Four Rivers

  • The Danube of Europe considered the most cultured among four gods. The sculpture looks directly at the Church and embraces the light of the Lord
  • The Nile of Africa represents the statue with head covered by a piece of cloth, which means that at the time, the source of this river was unknown. It also symbolized ignorance of the Christianity

Four marble gods are surrounded by flowers and animals. There, you can see a horse, crocodile, serpent, dolphin, lion, and other animals from the continents of these four rivers.

When the Fountain of the Four Rivers was created, it has been known as the epitome of Baroque design and theatricality

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It has a round shape and each figure represents its own story.


There was an opposition from the Roman people because of the creation of the fountain. At the time of its construction, Italy was in the grip of a severe famine and citizens could hardly support their families, while additional taxes for the fountain made them angry.

However, Pope Innocent X built the fountain in the period of 1646-1648 and during that time there were many riots from the Romans.

fountain of the four rivers

In September 1648, protesting writers announced: “We don’t want Obelisks and Fountains! It is bread we want. Bread, bread, bread!” on the rocks dedicated to the obelisk’s building. However, Innocent immediately found and arrested the authors of the inscriptions. Moreover, he placed spies to monitor the area of the fountain and protect it.

The Obelisk

The obelisk is made from Aswan granite by the order of the Emperor Domitian. Originally, it located at the central wall of the ancient Circus of Maxentius, which was nearby the Appian Way.


It is not an authentic Egyptian obelisk with hieroglyphics, rather it has a Roman representation

These hieroglyphics tell the hymn of pertaining to the Emperor Domitian. Also, there is a stone pigeon on the top of the obelisk, which is a symbol of Pope Innocent X’s family.

How to Get

Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi is located in the Piazza Navona. Previously, the site was known as the Circus Domitian that was opened in 86 A.D. However, the circus existed until the 4th century.

Piazza Navona is one of the main sites of the Eternal City. The fountain of the Four Rivers has a rich history and impresses with its beautiful décor. If you want to live near this masterpiece in the famous square of the city, read more about the best hotels in the Piazza Navona.

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Author: Kate Zusmann

For the last 6 years I live in the Eternal City. Traveling, exploring new things, writing blogs, shooting vlogs are my main hobbies, but the thing that I like even more is to share my experience and thoughts with you! Explore Rome with Us :)

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