Every year, millions of tourists throw coins into Rome's Trevi Fountain. Legend says that in doing so, you ensure a return to the eternal city. But what actually happens to all the money thrown into the waters?
The normally blue shimmering water has been drained from the monumental Trevi Fountain. All that remains is the empty pool in which several workers equipped with brooms sweeps together the mass of coins. Rome might be known as the "eternal city", but the coins, which are thrown into the fountain by tourists every second of the day and night will not remain forever in the Trevi Fountain.
Collection point for coins from around the world
Once a week the spectacle of collecting the coins takes placed - watched by thousands of curious onlookers. Until now, the money was donated to charities and good causes - but whether this will continue to be the case is yet to be decided. The different types of coins - euros, dollars, pounds or yuans show how popular the fountain is internationally. The Catholic relief organization Caritas says the city of Rome could annually fish in the region of one million euro out of the fountain –and they should know because until now they've traditionally been the recipients of those coins.
Legend says that if you throw a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder into the fountain then you will be blessed by good fortune and will ensure that you will someday return to Rome.
"I'm doing this because it's thought to bring luck. But why that should be the case I don't know," says Sabine from Dortmund, who takes pictures as her husband throws a coin into the Trevi waters. They have painstakingly fought their way through the crowds to the edge of the fountain, where people from Japan, China, the USA are also taking position to launch their coins.
A tourist ritual for a good cause
Trevi Fountain has lost some of its charms under the crush of people, cheap tourist souvenir vendors and the roaming traders - even though it shines brightly white after a 17-month make-over paid for by the Italian fashion house Fendi. "You can hardly enjoy it, let alone take any photos," says Isabel, a 26-year old from Essen, disappointedly.
Until now the money collected in the fountain has been given to Caritas, and therefore it has been used to help those in need. "We help families, give money to soupkitchens and hotels for the homeless and those who are HIV positive," says Caritas spokesman Alberto Colaiacomo. But they can make immediate use of the commonly used currencies. "Other coins, like those from China are collected over time and then exchanged at the appropriate embassy", Colaiacomo tells us.
The future of the fountain treasure is unknown
The current arrangement for the use of the coins runs until the end of 2017. There were already rumors at the beginning of the year that the funds would in future be put to different use – like pay for the renovation of antique buildings and monuments. But the city administration was fast to deny these plans.
Now however all bets are off as the power structure in Rome has shifted to the new mayor Virginia Raggi. Caritas spokesman Colaiacomo says she is the one who will now ultimately decide what is to be done with the collected Trevi Fountain coins as of 2018. And as the city is facing problems caused by debts, corruption, rubbish disposal, smog and weight of traffic, some things might be seen as more important.
Anita Ekberg in "La Dolce Vita"
The Trevi Fountain was designed by baroque architect Nicolò Salvi (1697-1751), but who didn't live to see the completion of the marble masterpiece in 1762. It found global fame some 200 years later when actress Anita Ekberg, wearing a black evening dress, seductively takes a plunge in the fountain in Frederico Fellini's 1960 "La Dolce Vita" film.
"Marcello, come here!" she sighs to her acting partner Marcello Mastroianni - and his character doesn't need asking twice. Today, however, it is strictly forbidden to even dip a toe into the legendary fountain; as of the beginning of this year, any dip in the waters of the historic fountain will incur a fine of € 500 (US $ 564).