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The unusual fountain at the foot of the Spanish Steps, known as the Fontana della Barcaccia (loosely translated as ‘the old boat’) dates to 1627 and was the last work of Pietro Bernini, father of the more famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

The Fontana della Barcaccia is one of Pietro Bernini’s best known contributions to the city of Rome. It resembles a beached ship and was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII.

Pietro Bernini’s son, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, went on to become the leading sculptor of his age and also a prominent architect. In addition he painted, wrote plays, and designed metalwork and stage sets.

The shape was chosen because, prior to the river walls being built, the Tiber often flooded and in 1598 there was a particularly bad flooding and the Piazza di Spagna was flooded up to a meter. Once the water withdrew, a boat was left behind in the square[1].

The English poet John Keats could hear the sound of the fountain’s water flowing soothingly from his deathbed. He said it reminded him of lines from the 17th-century play Philaster, or Love Lies a-Bleeding (1611) and was the source for his epitaph

Here lies one whose name was writ in water.


1. Rendina, Claudio (1999). Enciclopedia di Roma. Rome: Newton & Compton.