A visitors’ guide to the fountain of the turtles in Rome: interesting facts, history, description + tips for visiting one of Rome’s most charming fountains.
The Fountain of the Turtles, or Fontana delle Tartarughe, in Italian, is a charming fountain in Rome city center.
Located in Piazza Mattei, one of the prettiest piazzas in Rome, the fountain owes its name to the carvings of turtles decorating its main water basin and is is one of the most beloved fountains in Rome by locals and tourists alike.
The fountain is an element of urban decor and you can admire it simply by walking by, while exploring this beautiful area.
In this essential guide, I share information, facts, curiosities and tips to visit the Fountain of the Turtles and give ideas on other things you can see in this charming Rome neighborhood.
See also>>> our guide to the best fountains in Rome.
Rome’s Fountain of the Turtles facts
|Name||Fontana delle Tartarughe / Fountain of the turtles|
|Author||Architect Giacomo della Porta and Sculptor Taddeo Landini|
|Material||Marble (several types); bronze|
|Year of Construction||1581-88|
|Water Source||Acquedotto Felice|
|Address||Piazza Mattei, 00186 Rome|
The Turtles’ Fountain history and legends
The creation of the Fountain of the Turtles happened in conjunction with repairs of Acquedotto Felice, an ancient Roman aquaeduct serving this neighborhod, and object of upgrading work in 1570.
Plans for a fountain had identifies Piazza Giudea as the most suitable spot; however, the Mattei Family put pressure for a different location and campaigned to get the fountain in front of their private residence in Piazza Mattei, where we still see it now.
The connection between the Mattei Family and this pretty fountain was well known and gave origin to an urban legend.
According to Roman gossips, Duke Mattei was partial to gambling and, one night, lost its entire family fortune in one fateful game.
This cause the anger of his future father in law, who denied him the hand of his daughter.
To prove his value, Duke Mattei summoned the most famous designers and architects in Rome and got a beautiful fountain built overnight.
He then proceeded to show the fountain to his father-in-law to be fro the window overlooking the square and declared: This is what a penniless Mattei can accomplish in a few hours!
The marriage happened but, in memory of the event, he blocked up the window so that no one else could admire the fountain form that vantage point.
While charming, this story has no relation to the reality of the building of the fountain: to prove this, it will suffice to say that the palazzo was built three decades after the fountain making this story not just hard to believe but impossible!
The fountain of the turtles: description
The fountain of the turtle owes its name by the presence of several carving of small water turtles decorating it main basin. However, it is interesting to notice the turtles were not part of the original design.
In the drawing of Giacomo della Porta as realised by Landini, the fountain presented a central axis connecting a top water basin with four intermediate water containers and a larger bottom water cistern.
In the asset we see today, there are however some notable additions that have become the most distinctive traits of this small fountain.
Around the central axis of the fountains, there are now four bronze figures of ephebic boys, presented as sitting and with a raised hand each.
Above them, beside their delicately carved hands, we see the turtles the give the name to the fountain, and that the boys seem to be gentle pushing towards the top water area.
The ephebes have their feet resting on statues of dolphins, a popular water feature theme in Rome.
Both the boys and the turtles are additions by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who reworked this pre-existing fountain in 1658 during restoration work commissioned by Pope Alexander VII.
A curiosity: the turtles we see today are not the original ones by Bernini. The real ones got stolen so many times that, when last retrieved, they were moved to the Capitoline Museums for their own protection!
If you are interested in learning about Bernini’s work, read here >>> our guide to Bernini in Rome
How to visit the Turtles’ Fountains: location + how to get there
The Fountain of the Turtles is in Piazza Mattei, in Rome city center.
Small, cobbled streets lead you to the square from nearby Piazza Argentina and the best way to reach it is on foot.
Several buses and tram lead to Piazza Argentina and Piazza Venezia, both only a couple of minutes from this little piazza.
Buses serving Largo di Torre Argentina are: 40, 64, 70, 170, 492, 781, 766 and tram n 8. A taxi stand is also nearby.
What to see near the Fountain
The Fountain of the turtles is close to many important Rome sights. The closest and most significant are:
Rome’s Jewish Ghetto – one of the most fascinating and exciting neighborhoods in Rome
Theater of Marcellus – ancient Roman theater and archaeological area
Largo di Torre Argentina – busy square with the archaeological area housing hte location of the Julius’ Caesar attack
Tiber Island – the legendary island in Rome’s Tiber River
This whole neighborhood is also close to Piazza Venezia, the Pantheon and Campo de’ Fiori and is therefore easy to add to your Rome itinerary.
Not sure how to include this attraction in your Rome itinerary? Check our Rome itinerary suggestions below:
Rome in a day: detailed Rome city centre itinerary for first time visitors
Rome in two days A detailed itinerary for two full days in Rome
Rome in five days – complete Rome itinerary with main attractions and less usual sites for visitors with more time in the city
Traveling to Rome with kids? Find our family guide to Rome here.