This famous fountain is located in the center of the Square Navona occupied in ancient times by the stadium of Domitian.
Fueled by the Acqua Vergine and inaugurated on 12 June 1651 by Innocenzo X Pamphilj (1644-1655), it is the work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, whose project was preferred of his illustrious rival Francesco Borromini.
At the center of the fountain, almost suspended over the underlying cavity, rises the obelisk from the circus of Maxentius on the Appia.
At its foot, a high rocky base houses four gigantic statues, made by Bernini’s collaborators, which depict the rivers of the four continents then known: the Nile, symbol of Africa, by Giacomo Antonio Fancelli; the Ganges, symbol of Asia, the work of Claudio Poussin; the Danube, representing Europe, by Antonio Raggi and the Rio della Plata, representing America, by Antonio Francesco Baratta. The Nile has the particularity of the veiled head, alluding to the sources still unknown in the seventeenth century while the Rio della Plata presents, scattered on its side, some coins, a symbol of the wealth of the American territories.
The cliff is enriched by flowers, fruits, animals: a snake is on the top of the base, the crown of a beautiful palm tree seems to be blown by the wind, a lion and a horse emerge from the rocky cavity while two dolphins are immersed in the circular basin.
The coat of arms of the Pamphilj family, a dove with an olive branch in its beak, decorates the sides of the base and the top of the obelisk.
Some attitudes of the representations, in particular of the Rio della Plata, with the frightened face and the left hand raised as if to defend themselves from the collapse of the nearby church of S. Agnese in Agone, have ignited the popular imagination by generating anecdotes about the rivalry between Bernini and the Borromini.
Anecdotes of pure fantasy because when the Fountain of the Rivers had already been completed, the construction work of the church had not yet begun.
The huge expenses for the construction of the monument caused acute discontent against Innocent X and his sister-in-law, the ambitious Olimpia Maidalchini, on the part of the people burdened, for the occasion, by a new tax on bread. In addition, the market, which had been held in this square since 1477, was forced to change location, giving way to walks and meditations, as reported on one side of the base of the obelisk.
However, small commercial activities would, over time, come back to life in this extraordinary setting destined by the Pamphilj family to become an absolute masterpiece of Baroque art.