The classic wonders of Rome
Best of all is the insight provided by the remains of the Casa delle Vestali, the home to the Vestal Virgins. Each year, six girls were selected by lottery to move into a life of luxury at the temple of Vesta, goddess of the home, where for 30 years their primary task was to ensure that the temple’s sacred flame never went out – and to remain a virgin. The consequences for any Vestal Virgin who did not live up to the demands were grim – those who didn’t remain chaste were whipped, marched out of the city in disgrace and buried alive.
- Stop off at the museum inside the Senate building, which has the latest discovered artefacts. Guided tours of the Forum in English are worth the £4 price.
As workplaces go, the Trevi Fountain takes some beating. Instead of toiling in a strip-lit office, Alessio de Filippo gets to go about his daily grind beside a Baroque masterpiece whose extravagant beauty pulls in thousands of visitors each day.
At 7am each morning, he plugs in a blue vacuum cleaner-like machine, attaches the hose to a long metal handle, sticks it in the azure pool of the fountain, and starts sucking. There’s a rattle and a shudder as the hundreds of coins at the bottom of the pool start to shoot up the tube and into the machine. Every day, some 3,000 euros are thrown over tourists’ shoulders and into the fountain – a gesture that is supposed to ensure a return to the Eternal City. Alessio’s job is to collect the coins each morning and distribute them to the Catholic charity Caritas, based in the city.
Work on the Trevi began in 1732, a relatively late addition to the Roman tradition of building celebratory fountains. The Romans were exceptionally good at ensuring the imperial capital was well watered, and the aqueducts and hundreds of drinking fountains that still dot the city streets are testament to their success. The Trevi Fountain sits at the culmination of a 2,000-year-old underground aqueduct that brings water from the Salone springs, 11 miles away. It shows the god of the sea, Neptune, being pulled along by two great winged horses, one placid, one frenzied, representing the extremes of the oceans.
In recent years though, the Trevi has hit the news for reasons other than its beauty. Those tourist coins have proven to be an irresistible lure for numerous Romans – in particular one man, nicknamed D’Artagnan, who surreptitiously made his living for 20-odd years by dipping his hands into the flush waters. Hence the need for Alessio to hoover up the contributions each day. ‘I’ve seen so many people try to steal coins,’ he admits, in between suctions. ‘The scandal around D’Artagnan didn’t help either – it was shown on the TV constantly, and only helped spread the word.’ In the months after his arrest, the numerous copycat attempts led to the security around the fountain being upped.
The Trevi Fountain continues to be wildly popular with visitors, but has not been without its critics. While architect Nicola Salvi was overseeing construction, a barber who owned a shop on the corner of the square was a persistent critic of the design. Eventually Salvi became so irritated that he added a large vase-like structure to one corner, so that it blocked the view of the shop from anyone standing in front of the fountain. Locals today have nicknamed it ‘the ace’, due to its similarity to the ace of spades from a pack of cards.
- The only time that the Trevi Fountain isn’t absolutely packed is first thing in the morning, so to limit your chances of hitting another visitor with your coin, try to get there as early as possible.