Fontana delle Tartarughe of Rome has given rise to plenty of debates and discussions on topics like its symbolism, and the social and cultural context of its construction. It was occasionally appreciated as the most beautiful fountain in Rome, but the subjective judgments aside, it remains one of the must-visits of the capital of Italy.

The Fountain of Turtles was initially known as Fons Mattheiorum or Fontana delli Mattei, after the name of the nobleman who was involved in the construction of the structure in the place it can be seen today. Muzzio Mattei, member of the House of Mattei, was also the noblemen who sponsored the construction of the Complex of the Four Fountains on Via delle Quattro Fontane. As far as Fontana delle Tartarughe is concerned, his contribution came down to convincing Pope Pius IV to move the route of the Acqua Vergine aqueduct (back then undergoing a major restoration phase, given its poor state and lack of functionality) in exchange of undertaking to pay the maintenance costs and to pave the square where the fountain is located.

Contrary to the overall idea common in the 17th century, according to which the fountain had been designed by Raphael, or even by Michelangelo (which, in fact, it’s not surprising at all, given the architectural merits of the fountain), it was designed by the star architect of the age, Giacomo della Porta, with the notable contribution of Taddeo Landini, a Florence-born sculptor. Thus, the fountain was built, in its general outline, between 1580 and 1588, and it was not until 1658 that the bronze turtles at its base (from where the name of the fountain derives) were added. They were designed by either Gian Lorenzo Bernini or by Andrea Sacchi, but the authorship remains, all in all, uncertain.

The statues representing the four young men holding their hands up in the effort to support the basin which was once adorned by eights dolphins (removed by reason of their interfering with the functionality of the fountain) were realized by Taddeo Landini. The bronze turtles were added later precisely to restore the balance of the entire structure which seemed, at least to the eye of an art connoisseur, deprived of its original vertical steadiness and symmetry after the removal of the dolphins. The present turtles are, in fact, copies of the original sculptures (the originals have also been removed following the theft attempt of one of the four sculptures).

Fontana delle Tartarughe (Fountain of Turtles)
Piazza Mattei, Rome, Italy