If you’ve been to Rome, you’ve probably tossed a coin into the Trevi Fountain like thousands of other visitors do every single day. The tradition gained popularity after it was the theme of the 1954 romantic comedy Three Coins in the Fountain, but it started long before the movie. Originally, it was said that a thirst quenching glass of water from the Trevi Fountain would ensure good fortune and a fast return to the Eternal City. Over time the legend of the Trevi Fountain evolved to tossing a coin in to ensure a return to Rome.
The precise legend of the Trevi Fountain says you should stand with your back to the fountain and toss a coin over your left shoulder to guarantee a return trip to Rome. I tossed my first coin in to the Trevi Fountain in precisely this manner with my friend Jess in 2006 and returned to Rome less than one year later. Of course I tossed another coin in to the fountain on that return trip in 2007, and while my next return to Rome wasn’t as speedy as after my first coin toss, I did move to Italy a mere two years later.
Bonus Legend: There is a miniature fountain on the left side of the Trevi Fountain. Legend says that if a couple drinks from the “small fountain of lovers”, they will be forever faithful to their partner.
After tossing my coin, I turned around and observed the thousands of international coins glittering in the fountain. As coin after coin plopped into the Baroque masterpiece and sank to the bottom, I wondered exactly what happened to what must a small fortune.
It turns out that there’s an even better reason to toss your coin into the Trevi Fountain than just wishing for a return trip to Rome. Each day the gushing torrents of the Trevi Fountain are silenced for one hour while city workers sweep the coins from the fountain. Since 2006, the year I tossed my own first coin into the Trevi Fountain, the Roman Catholic charity Caritas has been sorting and cleaning the daily loot from the fountain.
Caritas runs food and social programs for the needy and oppressed in 200 countries and territories worldwide. Somewhere around €8000 is collected three times a week (on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8am – 9am when the fountain is closed to the public for cleaning and coin removal) from the Trevi Fountain (about $1.26 million annually) and distributes it among the needy. Caritas even opened a low-cost supermarket in Rome in 2008 for the needy.
So while you think you’re just doing something romantic while partaking in the coin-toss legend of the Trevi Fountain, you also helped the needy. Maybe on your return visit, you’ll toss in an extra coin or two. I know I will!
This post was featured on BuzzFeed in the article 36 Interesting Facts That Will Make You Want to Travel.