Deborah J. Smith

It didn’t take the ancient Romans long to figure out the Tiber River wouldn’t support the water needs of Rome. So they built a system of aqueducts and channels that transported fresh mountain water down into the city. Here emperor and tourist alike could enjoy clean running water any time of day or night, right on their street corner.

Meet il nasone, the everyday drinking fountains of Rome. Although some nasone actually look like fountains, often they are simple hydrant-style structures that dot the streets. The water runs out a smooth metal spout on the hydrant, delivering clean water continuously into the catch basin below the spout. Simply fill up your cup, your bottle or your mouth right here.

Bearing the ancient S.P.Q.R. emblem of the city of Rome, il nasone is Italian for “the nose.” Most, but not all, nasone come with a hole drilled into the upper side of the spout. If you block the spout with your fingers, you have created a small drinking fountain that shoots—if you’re not careful—right up your nose.

In Vatican City, nasone are more ornate–there are four, fountain-like, in the middle of Saint Peter’s Square and one located on the Vatican Museum side of St. Peters, just inside the gates. This latter nasone is made of marble, sculpted like several Papal tiaras. The spouts pop up all around the Pope’s hats. Drink in style, stay healthy (and apparently holy too.)

Recently, I was in Rome during a heat wave–even the locals were quick to tell you this was weather like Rome sees in August, when most folks take their vacation and leave town. To say it was hot was an understatement: I was sweating buckets. Walking the streets of Rome, or trapped in a car on the airless Metropolitana subway, most of what I drank bypassed my kidneys and went straight out my skin as sweat. At the Forum, I checked my shoes, thinking I’d stepped on a wad of melted gum. Imagine my shock when I found out it was the pavement–it was so hot the asphalt was oozing tar.

At the beginning of my trip, I’d bought two bottles of local water. During the heat wave, I saved the containers and filled them up at every nasone I passed. Though I always felt hot, I never felt ill and I didn’t wind up in a hospital for heatstroke. I don’t think I could say this if I didn’t have access to water all day.

In the mornings, I started out filling my two bottles across the street from where I stayed, chatting with the locals before I continued on my way. In the evening, it was the last thing I did before I retired to my room, even though Roman nights cooled off to a pleasant temperature by 10 o’clock. I got so good at it, I could tell you which nasone had colder water than the others. I knew I’d gone too far when I toyed with rating them: “Rome’s Coolest Nasone.” (The one across from my room was a favorite, as were the Papal tiaras in Vatican City. All that marble does wonders.) I knew I’d really miss these things when I returned home to America.

At St. Paul’s-Inside-The-Walls (yes, there’s a St. Paul’s Outside too) there was a nasone tucked away inside the church gardens. This one was great. It was positioned at an angle that allowed the water to spurt five feet straight up if you blocked the spout. I had a brilliant time amusing myself with it. I was addicted to il nasone. My final confirmation of this was when I found myself demonstrating the nasone-squirting trick to English-speaking tourist kids. It really is the cutest trick in Rome, especially when you find a kid who doesn’t know what to do.

The Italians joke that a cheap date takes his girl to il nasone for a drink. You can just grab your bottle and meet me there. I love them, every one.

Deborah J. Smith is a writer in Upstate NY who recently traveled to Rome, Italy. Her essays have been read on Northeast Public Radio and have been published in local magazines.

About Editors’ Choice:
Every week we choose one of the great stories we’ve received from travelers around the world and present it here as our “Editors’ Choice.” For an archive of these stories go to the Editors’ Choice link on The Flying Carpet; for more about the editors, see About Travelers’ Tales Staff.