Visitors threw $1.5 million into Rome’s Trevi Fountain last year – here’s where all those coins go?

Visitors threw $1.5 million into Rome’s Trevi Fountain last year – here’s where all those coins go?

Visitors threw $1.5 million into Rome’s Trevi Fountain last year – here’s where all those coins go?

It’s no novel idea to toss a coin into a fountain and make a wish, but there’s something particularly romantic about doing so at the Trevi Fountain in Rome.

The legend comes from the 1950s Academy Award-winning film “Three Coins in the Fountain”: Throw a coin into the famed Fontana di Trevi, regarded as the most beautiful Baroque fountain in all of Italy, and you’ll one day return to visit Rome.

Toss in two more coins and you’ll be met with new romance and, eventually, a beautiful Roman wedding.

It may seem a silly tourist attraction, but millions of visitors flock to the 18th century landmark each year to partake in the tradition. In fact, the fountain fills up so quickly, Roman city workers sweep its floor every night to collect the day’s loot.

Throughout 2016 they collected $1.5 million, according to NBC News, which has long been sent to Caritas, a Catholic nonprofit that supports causes around the world related to health, disaster relief, ending poverty, and migration.

Keep reading to learn more about the fountain’s history, how the coins are collected, and what the money is used for.

If you’ve been to Rome, you’ve probably tossed a coin into the Trevi Fountain like thousands of other visitors do every single day. The tradition gained popularity after it was the theme of the 1954 romantic comedy Three Coins in the Fountain, but it started long before the movie. Originally, it was said that a thirst quenching glass of water from the Trevi Fountain would ensure good fortune and a fast return to the Eternal City. Over time the legend of the Trevi Fountain evolved to tossing a coin in to ensure a return to Rome.

The precise legend of the Trevi Fountain says you should stand with your back to the fountain and toss a coin over your left shoulder to guarantee a return trip to Rome. I tossed my first coin in to the Trevi Fountain in precisely this manner with my friend Jess in 2006 and returned to Rome less than one year later. Of course I tossed another coin in to the fountain on that return trip in 2007, and while my next return to Rome wasn’t as speedy as after my first coin toss, I did move to Italy a mere two years later.

Bonus Legend: There is a miniature fountain on the left side of the Trevi Fountain. Legend says that if a couple drinks from the “small fountain of lovers”, they will be forever faithful to their partner.

After tossing my coin, I turned around and observed the thousands of international coins glittering in the fountain. As coin after coin plopped into the Baroque masterpiece and sank to the bottom, I wondered exactly what happened to what must a small fortune.


1. The Trevi Fountain is one of the oldest water sources in Rome

The fountain dates back to ancient Roman times, since the construction of the Aqua Virgo Aqueduct in 19 B.C. that provided water to the Roman baths and the fountains of central Rome. It’s said that the Aqua Virgo, or Virgin Waters, is named in honor of a young Roman girl who led thirsty soldiers to the source of the spring to drink.

The fountain was built at the end point of the aqueduct, at the junction of three roads. These three streets (tre vie) give the Trevi Fountain its name, the Three Street Fountain.

2. Salvi was not the original architect

In 1730 Pope Clemens XII held a contest to design a new fountain. Many important architects participated, but in the end Nicola Salvi won the rights to design the fountain, though some theories say he may not have been the first choice. Alessandro Galilei, a architect from the same family as the famous astronomer Galileo, originally won the commission for the project but the commission was ultimately given to Salvi after a public outcry. The reason for the public’s objections? Galilei was a Florentine, while Salvi was a native Roman.

However Salvi never saw his fountain completed. The first water came out of the fountain in 1743 but it wasn’t until 1762 that a different Pope, Clemens XIII, officially completed and inaugurated the new Trevi Fountain, 11 years after Salvi’s death. Still, the final product is largely his.

3. You can thank gambling for the fountain’s existence.

Salvi’s project for the fountain was the least expensive as well, a possible deciding factor for Pope Clement. In any case the pope approved the financing of the works and used the third extraction of the lotto game to pay for it. That’s right, the money earned from the reintroduction of the lotto in Rome financed the Trevi Fountain! The numbers of the first extraction were 56, 11, 54, 18 and 6, in case you were interested.

4. It’s made from the same material as the Colosseum…

The fountain is mostly built from travertine stone, a name that means “from the Tiber” in Latin. A mineral made of calcium carbonate formed from spring waters, especially hot springs, the likely source was the city of Tivoli, about 22 miles from Rome. During construction many men were injured and a few died when working with enormous stone, including a stonecutter who was crushed by a large block of travertine in 1734.

5. And it uses a lot of water.

The Trevi Fountain stands a massive 85 feet tall and is almost 65 feet wide. With water pumping out of multiple sources and the large pool in front, the fountain spills about 2,824,800 cubic feet of water every day! No need to fret though, today the water is recycled (meaning unlike the ancient Romans you’ll have to drink from the nearby drinking fountains instead!)


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