When at the fountain, you’ll see tourists do what countless visitors have done before them for more than a century: They turn around and toss a coin into the fountain over their shoulder — a wish and a gesture meant to guarantee a return visit to the Eternal City.
Indeed, there has never been a better time to do it. The legendary fountain stands in new magnificence, thanks to a top-to-bottom cleaning and extensive refurbishment completed last year through private sponsorship by the Roman fashion house Fendi. Trevi now shimmers by day and glows from new LED lighting at night.
Ever wonder what happens to all those wistful tourist coins? They’re put to good use. For so many years now, the monies retrieved from the fountain have been collected, sorted, and donated to Caritas, the non-profit that provides food to the poor and homeless of Rome.
How much money are we talking about? Upwards of €1.2 million per year. Azienda Comunale Energia e Ambiente (ACEA), the company responsible for the maintenance of many of Rome's historic fountains, drains and cleans the fountain every two weeks to monitor pH and chlorine levels in the recycled water. Three times a week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, ACEA team extracts coins in the fountain using a rake and a wet-vac. The process begins when they close the fountain between 8 and 9 a.m. They turn off the water, clean up any debris, push the coins into a line, and suction them out of the fountain. The whole process lasts about an hour and a half, and is a sight in itself. The Trevi without throngs of tourists surrounding it is an atypical experience.
ACEA collects an average of €8,000 every time — more during summer months and on Mondays after the weekend. The money is placed into sacks and consigned to the police, who weigh the sacks and take the coins away for deposit and distribution.
It's a simple, efficient, civic-minded, and generous system. Tourists may be wishing upon their further travels, none the wiser that they’re actually contributing to a healthy future for Rome itself.
Photos by Darius Arya.