A Thousand Words

Pietro and Gianlorenzo Bernini's Fontana della Barcaccia

by Mary Elizabeth Podles

The Barcaccia fountain, at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome's Piazza di Spagna, is best known as a bustling urban meeting place for young people. It was not always this way. We would hardly recognize the city of Rome in the sixteenth century. In 1570, Pope Nicholas V conceived a plan to put a fountain of potable water in every open space in Rome. In 1598, a disastrous flood brought far too much water here from a nearby bend in the Tiber River; the waters rose so high that a cargo boat was beached at this spot. Thus was born the idea for the Barcaccia, literally the . . .

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Mary Elizabeth Podles is the retired curator of Renaissance and Baroque art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She and her husband Leon, a Touchstone senior editor, have six children and live in Baltimore, Maryland.

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