Fountain of the Books, Rome’s Overlooked Fountain

The Fountain of the Books, Rome

photography by: Omri Westmark

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Often dubbed as the city of fountains, Rome is home to more than 300 ornamental fountains, many of which are incessantly frequented by throngs of tourists. In sheer contrast to its more famous counterparts across Rome, the Fountain of the Books remains largely out of the limelight. While the unassuming fountain might be a far cry from the nearby Fontana del Moro in Piazza Navona, it nonetheless makes up for in a hodgepodge of oddly shaped sculptures and ornaments.

For most, if not all of us, Rome is associated with churches, pizza restaurants and cafés. However, as any visitor or local would testify, it is first and foremost the city of fountains, the oldest of which dates back to the 8th century. Whereas some of Rome’s fountains became a globally renowned tourist attraction, others are still waiting to be discovered.


In spite of its central location between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona, the Fountain of the Books (Fontana dei Libri) is among the least known fountains throughout the city. One of 9 fountains, whose construction was commissioned by the city of Rome to symbolize its nine districts (Riones), Fontana dei Libri was built in 1927 at Via degli Staderari, a narrow street with little to no car traffic.


The hidden fountain was the brainchild of artist and architect Pietro Lombardi, who was also entrusted with designing its 8 sister fountains. Lombardi, who previously won a nationwide contest to create these watery sculptures, constructed the fountain within a small alcove using primarily Italian Travertino marble.


As its name implies, the fountain is comprised of two pairs of sculpted books, each of which has two bookmark-shaped spouts from where drinking water trickles down. The antique books reflect the street’s former name, Via dell’ Università, called after Sapienza University which once stood here before being relocated into Trastevere neighborhood.


Alongside the sculpted books are five spherical balls hanging above a double horned stag, the symbol of Sant’Eustachio Rione, the district where the fountain is located. Inscribed in between the dear’s pair of antlers are the name and numbering of the Sant’Eustachio Rione, arranged perpendicularly as a reference to the cross in the district’s original symbol.


Hilariously, despite the artist’s best efforts to design a meticulously crafted monument, both the horizontal and vertical inscriptions are either wrong or misspelled. While the vertical title where the district’s name is inscribed has a redundant “C” letter, the horizontal “R IV” (4th) which stands for the Rione and its number should have been R VII (8th), Sant’Eustachio’s actual numbering.


Be that as it may, the fountain, in spite of its odd flaws and lack of glory, is still an interesting object to visually explore, free of the hustle and bustle of Rome’s swarms of visitors.