What has a big hooked shape and runs all the time? You see one wherever you look all over Rome. Yep, the nasone, big nose, it is. But not that kind of nose.
The nasone is a type of fountain that delivers water all over the city. This utilitarian beast was first introduced in 1871 by the city’s first mayor following Italy’s unification. The metal cylinder stands a bit more than three feet tall, and the distinctive hook that gives it its name extends from one side. I read somewhere that the law creating these fountains required them to be placed every sixty meters. I haven’t been able to confirm that, but there are more than 2,500 throughout the city.
And the water flows all the time. It’s good, sweet water brought in by the aqueducts. Some guide books advise tourists to carry a plastic cup, but the cognoscenti don’t need plastic. If you place your finger under the spout to stop the flow, the water is diverted through an ingenious hole and spurts up in an arc like a drinking fountain from my school days. It takes a little practice to keep your feet dry, but it’s well worth the effort.
This free-flowing, and free, water supply is an integral part of Roman life. So much so, in fact, that during recent construction to rebuild part of a street and the adjacent sidewalk, the workers diverted the water with a hose and set up a temporary fountain for the few weeks that the nasone was inside the construction site.
One enterprising flower seller is not so generous. He has built an apparatus that completely covers the nasone beside his stand. It includes a vat that is always full of clean water; he uses it to dampen his plants and wash his pots.
Cooks or waiters in small restaurants often carry out tubs of salad greens to wash them under a nasone. I frequently see people exiting the market with their bags of produce stop by the fountains outside to wash an apple, munching on the fresh fruit as they walk along. And dogs adore them. And dogs tug on their leashes, dragging their owners to the flowing water for a drink.
My municipio—local government office—sets up an ice rink in a nearby piazza during the winter. It’s a popular after school or work pastime. I see staff getting ready for business in the afternoon as the sun begins to sink. They pipe water over from the nasone and smooth out the ice before opening up to the public.
The nasone provides homeless people a place to bathe. I even saw a pair of homeless men doing their laundry under one. They had a bucket for agitating the wash and rinsing. When the clothes were clean, they each took an end of things, including a large blanket, and twisted to wring out the water.
Many people in my family have the proboscis type of Roman nose. I’ve always attributed that to the time Julius Caesar and his men spent on the British Isles. It makes me laugh to think of that other kind of Roman nose when I walk past a nasone.