The history of Rome can be seen in her nasoni, or fountains of the big noses. From the aqueducts supplying an ancient city, to the beauty of her Renaissance fountains, Rome has always been dependant upon a fresh water supply. In 98 AD the Roman Consul was named as Guardian of the city’s water supply; today the Romans have l’acqua del sindaco – the mayor’s water. Free to residents and tourists alike, clean water sprouts from drinking fountains, called nasoni, all over the city.
When the barbarian hordes invaded Rome, cutting the city’s water supply proved part of their success. As Rome recovered and the city once more prospered, the number of drinking wells – called beveratore – grew. Yet unlike Roman times, even the wealthy could rarely boast having their own supply of running water. The beveratore, built from the 16th century to supply drinking water to the populace, can still be seen all over Rome. Usually hanging from a wall, the water spills from more than one nozzle, (which are often decorated with grotesque animal heads) and into a basin. This is often a sarcophagus, bath or even a tomb from the ruins of the ancient city, and many boast exquisite carvings. The name of the fountains is derived from these basins: beveratore comes from the Latin to drink, for the size of the basin allowed horses to drink from them. (One such beveratore can be found by the Colosseum, near the subway entrance.)
The Birth of the Nasoni
The original nasoni had three dragon-shaped heads, and only three of these remain in Rome. One (but with a nozzle missing) is in the Piazza della Rotonda, near the large Renaissance fountain facing the Pantheon. Another is at the foot of the Via delle Tre-Cannelle – the street of three nozzles – a steep road which leads toward the Quirinal Hill. The third (but no longer functional) nasoni is in the Via di San Teodoro, behind the Forum. In the early 1870s a new type of fountain appeared all over the city. They were initially installed to provide street markets with water – such as the Campo de’Fiori, which is still dependent upon its two fountains. With the rapid growth of the population, and lack of running water in houses, the nasoni – or fountains of the big noses – were soon built all over the city.
Faced with having to rapidly produce large numbers of these fountains, the designers altered the nasoni to become smaller and more practical, resulting in a single nozzle in a simple iron pipe. The design gave rise to their name –nasoni – big nose. The nozzle also has a small hole on the upper side. Closing the down spout hole with the back of the hand forces water to arc out of the upper hole, making it easier and more hygienic to drink. Also, unlike the bevertore, nasoni have no basin – they are adequate to supply water for drinking, washing and cooking for people, but no longer for horses.
Today, some 2500 still functional nasoni remain all over Rome, free for all to use. On each is stamped the initials SPQR – Senatus Populous Romanus (Senate and People of Rome). The water comes from a reservoir in Peschiera, coursing through some 130 kilometres of aqueduct channels before spouting ice-cold onto the city streets. Many Romans prefer the taste of the water from their local nasoni to that supplying their houses, and even in the height of summer the water stays cool and refreshing. When asked, locals readily direct the inquisitive to their local fountain; often the nasoni can be found by the queue of people waiting to fill their water bottles, ready for another day discovering Rome.
The Literary Traveller
Written in 1957, A Traveller in Rome is a record of his time spent in the Eternal City. A pioneering travel journalist, HV Mortan rose to fame on scooping the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. He lived in Rome during the height of La Dolce Vita, yet the wonders of all ages of Rome make an appearance in his writing. Every street, every fountain, every church comes alive with his touch. A full review coming soon.