ROME – Drinking fountains can be found in cities across the world, but more than 2,000 examples in Rome boast a distinguishing feature that makes them characteristic of the Italian capital: water streams from them incessantly, offering tourists and locals alike a chance to quench their thirst at all times.
Modern-day Romans affectionately know them as nasoni, which literally translates as “large noses,” because of their design, which is usually a cylindrical pillar no more than a meter (3.2 feet) high topped with a large conduit resembling an arched nose.
Their origin can be traced back to the years after the unification of Italy between 1872 and 1874, when the erstwhile mayor of Rome, Luigi Pianciani, decided to install a vast network of public fountains offering potable water to anyone who needs it, Paolo Carsetti, secretary of the Italian Forum of Water Movements, told EFE.
A unique feature of nasoni is their lack of faucets, meaning the water pours out 24 hours a day all year round.
“It’s clear that everyone sees this as a negative thing because we’re wasting water,” Carsetti added, insisting that it would not be costly to simply install functioning taps to the fountains so that the water flow could be turned on and off.
No-one is quite sure why the never-ending flow was incorporated into the design of the nasoni but there are a few suggestions.
The first is that the constant flow of water alleviates the pressure on Rome’s aqueduct, which supplies the nasoni.
Another theory revolves around hygiene, in so far as running water was purer and the motion would not allow residue build-up.
Carsetti believes it was simply a question of maintaining public order. He said the few taps that were once installed on the fountains were simply vandalized.
Although the sight of constantly running water could offend those dedicated to protecting the environment, Carsetti said the amount wasted was actually relatively low.
“The volume of water that is wasted is less in comparison to the volume that arrives in Rome. It’s less than 1 percent,” he said.
The city authority’s decision to shut off almost all the nasoni during a period of drought in Italy was met with controversy for this reason.
The Italian Forum of Water Movements protested against the decision, saying it did little to combat the dry spell and simply jeopardized those in need of water for drinking and washing, such as the city’s homeless.
Back in action, the nasoni have retaken their post as a historic and symbolic feature of the Italian capital, where it is common to see locals use to the fountains to fill up water bottles for consumption later at home.