Fontana delle Api: a minor work by a great artist
Fontana delle Api (Fountain of the Bees) is one of Rome’s oldest fountains; it is located in the historic centre, close to Piazza Barberini, where Via Veneto enters the square.
Its current configuration doesn’t correspond to the original one; it is in fact the result of a partial reassembling carried out in 1915, when the fountain was rebuilt approximately where it used to be (its original position was, to be exact, on the corner of Piazza Barberini and Via Sistina), but with some alterations. Notably, not all the original parts were found, and for this reason a copy of the fountain was commissioned.
Let’s start by saying that the fountain takes its name from Pope Urban VIII Barberini, who patronized the monument: bees are in fact the family’s arms. Pope Urban VIII entrusted his favourite Gian Lorenzo Bernini with the realization of this little fountain of public use, repeating the choice he had made a few years before for the monumental Fontana del Tritone (Triton Fountain), designed by the same artist.
Bernini gets this way, in 1644, to deal once more with the design of a fountain, after realizing not only the Triton Fountain, but also, for example, the famous Fontana della Barcaccia (completed in 1629).
To meet the Pope’s demand, the unusual location and the scarcity of water supply, that comes from a cistern connected with the Triton Fountain, Bernini designs a marble bi-valve shell, with the lower one on the street level, functioning as a watering trough for horses. Water reaches this basin through a slight jet that comes from the mouths of three bees, carved where the two halves meet. The vertical component of the shell carries an inscription that celebrates the realization of the fountain.
Like we said, the present fountain is a copy of the original one, and mainly differs from it for its position, more isolated and slightly raised from the street level, while at first it used to lean against Palazzo Solderini; therefore, it is now possible to go round the monument, differently from what Bernini had originally planned.
Once you have relaxed a bit while admiring this little gem and the wonderful bees it hosts, you can continue your discovery of the Eternal City, perhaps following one of the walks we suggest, which stops precisely here.