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32. Details of a Masterpiece

Updated: Mar 20, 2020

By - Giulio D'Ercole

Once in Rome, nobody can avoid going to Piazza Navona, the wonderful square amazingly rich in history, beauty and a large number of "curiosities".

Exactly in the center of the square stands the Four Rivers fountain, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1651 for Pope Innocent X, who decided to embellish the square situated in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Rome at that time, and today one of the most lively, visited and expensive to live in.

The Fountain of the Four Rivers depicts Gods of the four great rivers in the four continents as then recognized by the Renaissance geographers: the Nile in Africa, the Ganges in Asia, the Danube in Europe and the Río de la Plata in America. Each location is further enhanced by animals and plants of that country. The Ganges carries a long oar, representing the river's navigability. The Nile's head, in the close up shot here shown,

is draped with a loose piece of cloth, meaning that no one at that time knew exactly where the Nile's source was. The Danube touches the Papal coat of arms, since it is the largest river closest to Rome. And the Río de la Plata is sitting on a pile of coins, a symbol of the riches America might offer to Europe (the word plata means silver in Spanish). Each River God is semi-prostrate, in awe of the central tower, epitomized by the slender Egyptian obelisk (built for the Roman Serapeum in AD 81), symbolizing Papal power and surmounted by the Pamphilj symbol of the dove. The Fountain of the Four rivers is a theater in the round, whose leading actor is the movement and sound of water splashing over and cascading down a mountain of travertine marble. The masterpiece was finally unveiled to the world on June 12, 1651, to joyous celebration and the inevitable criticisms of the day. Then as today the Fountain of the Four Rivers continues to amaze and entertain visitors to Rome. Bernini triumphs yet again!

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