The Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi) is the most famous one of the three fountains that embellish the Piazza Navona in Rome, the other two being the Fountain of Neptune and the Fountain of the Moor.
Fountain of the Four Rivers Rome
It was Pope Innocence X Pamphilj who, apparently rather reluctantly, commissioned the fountain from the unpopular Bernini.
The fountain is called thus because of the four marble statues around the central obelisk, which were to represent the four major rivers known at the time. The obelisk itself was taken from the Circo Massenzio and is known as the Obelisco Agonale.
The Ganges, symbolizing Asia, was sculpted by Claude Poussin.
The Nile, by Giacomo Antonio Fancelli, stood for Africa. The head of this sculpture is veiled because at the time its source was not yet known.
Europe’s Danube (closest to Italy and therefore touching the Papal coat of arms) was carved by Antonio Raggi and America’s Rio de la Plata by Francesco Baratta. The often repeated story that the statue representing the Rio de la Plata shields his eyes in disgust from the facade of the Sant’Agnese church (which had been designed by Bernini‘s rival Borromini) is a beautiful tale, but not a true one, since Borromini started work on the church after Bernini‘s fountain had been completed.
Pope Innocent X authorised work on the removal of the obelisk from the Circo Massenzio and its placement in Piazza Navona, according to Bernini‘s project. Around this monolith were placed four white marble statues, five meters tall which represented rivers.
At the time there was great poverty in Rome and many Romans protested against the use of church money for the expensive fountain. It is probably not a surprise that this did not deter the Pope.