The Fountain of the Four Rivers, Piazza Navona

Gianlorenzo Bernini
travertine and marble

View of the whole

Commissioned by Pope Innocent X, the fountain was designed by Bernini and executed largely by his assistants. A rustic free-form rock occupies the center from which water gushes. The rock form at the bottom has a horse, palm tree, and lion, which had to be carved in situ--and were reportedly carved by the master himself. The fountain is topped by a restored Egyptian obelisk.

The Danube

The four rivers of the then-known continents are represented by personifications. The fountain is a favorite haunt of pigeons (as well as tourists). Sorry!

The Ganges River, representing Asia


The Nile River with covered head--because the source of the Nile was then unknown (at least by Europeans)


The Rio della Plata--a Negro with coins on the ledge representing the riches of the Americas


The papal insignia

Not only did Pope Innocent X (a Pamphilj) commission the fountain but the Pamphilj family palace was built on this oval piazza. The fountain may have a Counter-Reformation purpose: it proclaims the church's influence on four continents and asserts the triumph of church, papacy, and the reigning papal family.

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