The Trevi Fountain and Its Practical Use
Exploring the history of the Trevi, demands starting at the beginning. The arches of the original aqueduct carrying the Aqua Vergine most likely ended in a great fountain located near the baths built by Agrippa. It is also probable that these same arches crossed the large areas of the City of Rome where smaller fountains were built along. It is hard to say when the urban part of the aqueduct was destroyed, but we know from records it had happened by the 8th century. One of these older fountains must have been considered the “showpiece” water fountain for the Vergine. And it is most likely that this “showpiece” was referred to the “Trevi fountain”.
This modest and insignificant fountain was actually quite interesting because it was depicted on even the earliest and incomplete maps of Rome, alongside statues and other far more important features. This goes to prove how well known this fountain was, and allows for a brief look at what the original fountain looked like. The first look at the fountain came from a fresco painted by Taddeo di Bartolo in Sienna in 1412. The fountain, in this drawing, consists of a row of separate basins lined against a wall of a tiny building, which could be the pier of the aqueduct.
Judging from the fresco, it can be determined that the fountain was not made to be a decorative feature, but was made for practical purposes, until it was refurbished by Pope Nicholas V. He took advice from artists like Leon Battista Alberti and Bernardo Rossellino, the improvements were not major, making the fountain only slightly changed. The three large water jets were actually left on the same building wall, with the actual only change being made that there was one trough instead of three basins. There was also a huge inscription that read, “Nicholas V, P.M., having enriched the City with important statues, figures, fountains, and monuments, had the disintegrating conduit of the Aqua Vergine restored and splendidly decorated at his own expense in the year 1453, the seventh of his pontificate”, in the centre of the tablet located behind the water spouts. The fountain was altered by Alberti probably in the 15th century due to the tall crenellated façade. The Fountain of the Trevi, with the lower and longer wall, that has no battlements but protruding ornaments and statue, were probably made a few years later, during the time of Pope Sixtus IV.