Located on Piazza Mattei, in the neighborhood known as the Ghetto (for those of you wondering, this is where the name came from), it was built 1580-1588, during the Renaissance, by the architect/sculptor team of Giacomo della Porta and Taddeo Landini.
The turtles that are what give the fountain its name and the element that invariably causes tourists to stop and smile when they see the fountain, were not an original element of the fountain, but added later during a restoration project, probably in 1658 or 1659.
Interestingly, the original design would have had porpoises on top, which apparently led to problems of water pressure and were subsequently removed. Hence, the later addition of these turtles so beloved by both Romans and tourists today.
As my sons study in their art classes (sorry if I digress, but is there anything better than studying art in Rome? I’m quite envious of my own children who get to go out an observe live the art and architecture they read about in their textbooks), these beautiful Renaissance fountains we admire today were not built only for their aesthetic contribution to the city. Their primary reason for existence was as a source of drinking water for the Roman population.
The Turtle Fountain was no different.
It was financed by the Muzio Mattei, from a prominent banking family, who agreed to construct and maintain the fountain – in exchange for the flow of water supplied by a new aqueduct to be moved close to his family residence (thus supplying the Turtle Fountain with its source of water).
The fountain has always been extremely popular with Romans – and its unveiling was met with success. It often appears in lithographs of Rome and – not surprisingly – often serves as a backdrop for films.
Don’t miss out on visiting this picturesque corner of Rome when you are next in the Eternal City.