Fontana della Tartarughe

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Rome, Italy, you must make a point to stop by the Sant'Angelo district to see the Fontana della Tartarughe. This late Italian Renaissance piece is in the Piazza Mattei, and is appreciated just as much today for its beauty as it was for the drinking source it provided so many years ago.


Like most 16th century Renaissance fountains the piece was erected to supply water to the local population. It was one of 18 fountains that were built after the restoration of the Acqua Vergine, which was previously destroyed. The reconstruction of that first century aqueduct was compiled in 1570, with the first flow of water traveling to where the famous Trevi Fountain is today, which is another nearby fountain worthy of a visit. The city of Rome then proceeded building the 18 fountains to connect to the aqueduct. Fontana della Tartarughe is one of these historic pieces.


Architect Giacomo della Porta designed the outdoor fountains in 1581. Its single vasque on a pedestal was a design favorite he used on several other fountains. It became somewhat of a trademark of this work. What distinguishes this one from others is its detail. Sculptor Taddeo Landini was commissioned to work on the piece to create eight dolphins and four ephebes. Originally they were to be marble, but ended up being bronze, which was significantly more expensive at the time.

The fountain features a circular vasque made of African marble, which sits inside a square basin. The pedestal holding the vasque is surrounded by four heads that spout water to the basin below.

Four marble conches are at the base, complemented by four bronze elephants that each rested a foot on one of the dolphins. The water poured from the dolphins to the conch shells, and finally into the basin.

Due to problems with the water pressure, the dolphins were eventually removed. This left the piece quite off-balance, so four turtles were added in 1658 as part of a restoration process. The turtles became the standout element of the fountain. They are unbelievably realistic, which could be because real turtles were used to create casts.

However, after one of the turtles was stolen in 1979, the other three originals were removed, and copies were added. At this time a water purification system was also added to prevent calcium deposits and reduce the heavy load of routine maintenance on the piece.