On busy days, Rome's Trevi Fountain attracts over one thousand visitors an hour, that's four thousand people a month and 5.4 million a year.
A resplendent sculpture at an ancient water source, the name Trevi stems from 'Tre Vie' - three streets. In ancient Rome, the convergence of three important city roads happened where water was brought from the aqueduct Acqua Virgo built in 19 BCE. This spot has always been sacred; legend says pure water bubbled from the earth where a beautiful virgin led soldiers to drink. These waters supplied Rome's multitude of fountains and baths, the aqueduct was named after her. Commissioned by Pope Clement XII in 1732, Roman architect Nicola Salvi fashioned a lavish design in Travertine stone, the same used for the Colosseum, before dying 19 years later. His masterpiece was to be completed by Pietro Bracci, a local sculptor, who finished the fountain in 1762, it has since become one of Rome's most iconic of attractions.
Boosted to stardom in Fellini's La Dolce Vita, Sylvia (Anita Ekberg) climbs into the pool and beckons Marcello to join her while she stands beneath the cascading water in a sultry scene. Marcello does join her but the film that created Trevi's ritual of tossing a coin was in fact "Three Coins in the Fountain" from 1954, where one coin signified a return trip to Rome, two meant love and three meant marriage.
Ever since 1954, a visit to Rome's gorgeous Trevi Fountain isn't complete without the tradition coin toss.
How to Toss a Coin into the Trevi Fountain
For the magic to work, you must stand with your back to the fountain and toss a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder but this does become tricky when Trevi's smooth, white steps are packed with people. There's an unseen system of visitors who wait their turn to get to the water's edge which is not always easy and does take time, especially on Rome's busiest of days. However if you're after love, travel and a spouse, then it might be worth the wait and the spare change of course.
Millions of Coins in the Fountain
With 5.4 million visitors a year, you can imagine how many lucky coins touch the Travertine fountain floor every day, so where do they all go?
Each morning at dawn, the fountain is vacuumed and the treasures all sucked up. Thousands of coins and other oddities (like watches and even dentures) are taken to an office to be cleaned and divided into currencies amounting to a whopping €3,000 a day!
The Real Reason You Should Always Toss a Coin is not one of desire, love or luck, it is one of charity. Since 2001, Caritas Roma converts every lucky token into someone's lucky day. One of the most effective of Catholic charities is a group of supermarkets for the needy. Five Empori della Solidarietà (Emporiums of Solidarity) around Rome provide ingredients and supplies at zero cost to over 2000 families who can apply for a card through Caritas Roma to do their household shopping gratis. In 2022, Caritas Roma collected 33 thousand kilograms of coins from the Trevi Fountain which meant €1.432.953,74 of funds could be distributed between their charities including soup kitchens providing 53 thousand meals to the hungry in one year. "It's not only food," says Director Giustino Trincia, "In 2022,we helped 70 unemployed citizens find jobs and helped others pay their bills. We fund support centres for children under 3 years old before starting school and others for teens with built-in language schools for foreigners.'
So next time you're in Rome, go feast your eyes upon sublime sea creatures and marine god Oceanus, his chariot of sea horses and the beautiful virgin of the aqueduct. There's Abundance, Wealth, Fruits and Crops, water spouting and beauty abounding in a spectacle which we think is glorious lit up by night. Grab a gelato (here's our guide) and find a spot on the stone steps to marvel at one of Rome's most decadent of sights. Take a while to note the detail, dip your fingers in the water (but not your toes) and dig deep into your pockets to take part in a tradition which is bound to bring luck, maybe not to you but certainly to someone.
Toss one coin, two or go on, toss four...
Buona Roma amici.
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