I Nasoni di Roma: waste and functionality

You walk along the ancient streets of Rome, sometimes slapped awake by its murderous beauty, sometimes by the obscenities of modernity. In Rome, the great and the grubby are forever touching; they embrace and woo one another, rarely do they integrate. The reason is always that underlying oxymoron, that feeling of filthy wonder that can be touched by hand in few other places in the world. You savor. You pass through.


A thousand-year old log, a view that spans the centuries or artistic drive can crumble on the heap of garbage and plastic bottles. Odors and perfumes battle it out, with no clear winner. Places in which the extremes draw close rise up as epigrams: Campo de' Fiori, most of all, as an area that encapsulates everything that Rome is – and has been – for centuries and centuries.


As anyone who has walked the streets of Rome knows, this is a city of fountains, which cast out (or at least they once did) clean drinking water at all hours of the day and night, saving wayfarers – as well as the homeless, the four-legged, the cultured and the not-so-cultured – from a terrible thirst or the sweltering heat. Introduced after becoming the capital city of Italy, not long after the Capture of Rome, mainly to recalibrate the tired tubing, which on the one hand were evidence of the ancient ingenuity of the civil aqueducts envied all over the world, but also suffered – and still suffer – from serious defects, aggravated by excessive pressure. The spouts supplied water while at the same time freeing the thrust of water and offering a hygienic function: the continuous flow actually guaranteed the flow of wastewater, sewage and everything else into the sewers.


In recent times, as part of a growing discontent about drought, desertification and wasted water caused by totally other matters, the city administration decided to gradually shut down the Nasoni, as the Romans call the fountains, leaving just a handful of the 2,500 that were in operation prior to 2017. The grille-covered holes have quickly become hotbeds of filthiness, odorous and poorly maintained, depriving a large number of people of a free supply of clean water.


The anti-waste announcement appears questionable when one looks at the figures: the fountains “threw away” 1% of the city’s water supply, compared with an estimated 50% waste due to old and inefficient piping (source: Codacons in Internazionale magazine). Those of us who simply walk around Rome do not have access to the numbers; we don’t know what opinion to form. Our eyes are our guide, and we suffer a little, missing those spouts that, when stoppered with a thumb, sprayed up a long, quenching sip of clear water.


And then there are all the photo opportunities that we’re missing.

The idea of fixing drought by closing Rome’s fountains is like wanting to tackle climate change by turning on the air conditioning.
[bosco di ogigia]