The nasoni of Rome [1]

Rome is packed with attractions, some of them world famous and others less so but not less interesting. We have all heard about or visited some of its famous fountains such as the Trevi fountain, Turtle Fountain at Piazza Mattei, Fountain of the Frogs at Piazza Mincio, the big fountain on the Janiculum Hill and the Fountain of the Four Rivers at Piazza Navona to name some of the better known.


The fountain of the four rivers, Piazza Navona.

While the above have great cultural and ornamental value there are other water fountains that, although not great looking, serve the purpose of delivering free ice-cold water to the city inhabitants and visitors. These are the small drinking fountains that are found all over Rome supplying water non-stop.

There are 2,500 drinking fountains scattered all over the city, and almost 300 of them are inside the city walls. Although there are a few exceptions, they mainly follow a standardized model known by the locals as nasone/a because of the drinking spout on its side.


Technical drawing of a drinking fountain. Scheda Tecnica del Nasone Fontanella di Roma. Released into the public domain by its authors via Wikimedia Commons.

These simple but clever contraptions allow the water to run continuously through their “noses” but blocking the end of the spout sends water in an arch that is ideal for drinking as well as for surprising the unaware visitor with a summer splash!

The 100 kg and 100 cm high nasoni are in place from 1874. They are made of cast iron and marked with the ubiquitous S.P.Q.R. that, in Latin, means Senatus Populus Que Romanus (the Senate and the People of Rome), the official city “logo” that also appears in many public buildings.

Most drinking fountains are found near the outdoor markets and plant and flower vendors and it is very common to see their water overflowing buckets and other containers placed under their water stream. The purity of the water is assured by the Azienda Comunale Energia e Ambiente (ACEA) [2] through over 250,000 tests a year [3].

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Picture of nasona by User: Lalupa (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

A novelty for us during this visit to Rome was the discovery of the “nasoni maps” put together by various organizations such as the ACEA itself that presents the public with a map of the nasoni in the historical centre of the city and beyond. [4]


A “special” nasone with a bottom plate that enables pets to drink!

The constant flow of almost ice-cold drinking water the year round in Rome through the nasoni (and even the non-drinking water from the fountains) has always been a mystery for me. Writing this post I learnt that the water comes from the Peschiera reservoir through a 130 km aqueduct that runs deep underground. Although the underground element would be important for the coldness of the water, there should be something else keeping it so cool. I did not find a clear answer until our friend Donatella told me that the water is always moving and therefore it has no time to warm up. I believe that she hit the nail on the head and solved the mystery to my satisfaction!

The 16 million cubic metres of water that flow into the nasoni‘s drains and other fountains everyday are -apparently- recycled for watering gardens, cleaning factories and other non-drinking purposes so it does not go to waste. However, it is an immense volume of water! So, trying to get an idea of the amount that has gone through Rome’s drinking fountains since their establishment in 1874 I did a quick and dirty calculation:

143 years x 2500 nasoni x 16,000,000 litres/day x 365 days = 2,087,800,000,000,000

or two quadrillion, eighty-seven trillion, eight hundred billion litres or 2,088 cubic km of water yielded. Frankly, the result did not tell me much as the volume was impossible for me to grasp! So, as usual in these cases, I looked for a comparison and found that such an amount of water would have almost fill up lake Victoria with its 2,700 cubic km! I am not sure that this assessment is any use to anyone but at least it lays my mind to rest until I start working on the next post!



[1] A man with a big nose. Nasone/nasona are the masculine/feminine nouns and nasoni the plural.

[2] Municipal company for Energy and Environment

[3] https://www.acea.it/

[4] https://www.acea.it/it# or http://www.colosseo.org/nasoni/inasonidiroma.asp



Fire down below

After a few months after our arrival in Kenya in the 80’s[1] we eventually left the Muguga House hostel for Tigoni where we rented a large house belonging to the Harvey family. Tigoni is about 40km northwest of Nairobi, on the eastern side of the Rift Valley at over two thousand metres of altitude. Indigenous forest islands still remained then, among the large tea plantations. Several animal species still inhabited the area, the most notable being the conspicuous Black-and-white Colobus monkeys during the day and the bush babies at night, with their loud and somehow scary calls.

tigoni house

The land at the back of the house had no fence or wall (imagine that today!) and therefore we were able to walk towards the nearby stream located about two thousand metres down hill.

A Sunday that we were not camping in the bush, we invited our friend Ranjini for lunch and,  afterwards, we decided that going down to the river was a good idea to help digest our food. So, armed with our binoculars and wearing long trousers to protect ourselves from thorns and ticks, we set off. About half way down the red and slippery hill our “private” path joined a “public” wider lane where the local inhabitants went about their business rather than fun walking like us.

tigoni hse bfast 1

We soon arrived to the stream and, after walking about the area for a while; we found a shady spot where we decided to have a small walkers consultation to decide our next steps. The ideas put forward were whether to continue up the other side of the ravine or to return the way we came and enjoy a cup of tea at home. The latter was gaining consensus when, without warning, a fire started in my ankles and started spreading up my legs. I saw no smoke but noticed that I was standing in the middle of a colony of siafu![2]

The nasty meat-eaters, amazed by their lucky find, were not wasting any time in processing it! Without wasting a second and forgetting about being normally shy (?), I downed my trousers in a flash (excuse the pun) and checked my hurting parts. What I found was not encouraging: a few dozen soldier ants had climbed up the inside of my trousers. While some had already locked their jaws on my pink flesh, others were still going “upwards”…

Yelling “siafu!!!” to alert my companions, I started to grab and remove those still trying to reach tender places and, only when I smashed them all, I focused on removing those that had already bitten me and were going nowhere. This is easier said than done! Pulling them in a hurry (what else can you do?) only makes their bodies detach, leaving their heads with their rather outsized jaws still embedded in you! While this was going on, my companions, luckily looking the other way, moved off fast and left me alone to deal with the aggressors. Before they moved off, I caught a glimpse of their expressions that did not help. Instead of seeing sympathetic concern or at least indifference towards my predicament, they were amused! I am still trying to forgive them for this!

It was in the middle of my painful struggle when I became aware that I was still being watched. I turned around and saw that my antics had gathered some public! A growing bunch of Kikuyu kids were carefully watching me. Once discovered, they started to make comments, pointing at my nakedness and, worse of all, they laughed loud! I was clearly a “first” for them but that failed to amuse me. I told them -mainly with gestures aided by my basic Swahili- to go away. They only moved back a couple of paces, unwilling to stop watching the sight of their childhood: how a half-naked muzungu[3] “danced with ants”.

(Almost) embarrassed and in a desperate effort at damage control I immediately lifted up my trousers. Although this calmed down the young Kikuyu crowd, it did nothing to placate my traitorous companions’ enjoyment of the scene of my distress! So, ignoring everybody, with a great effort I put on my best neutral face, and started walking back to the house, still bringing with me a considerable number of large ant jaws for later extraction.

Despite my rather unpleasant experience, siafu are not a bad thing as they control a number of otherwise harmful pests for crops and their storage. They also take care of other undesired beasts such as ants, roaches, spiders, and everything else that crawls or creeps. Later, while busy un-plucking mandibles my thoughts did focussed of their beneficial side but, although I could somehow see it, it did nothing to relieve the consequences of my encounter!


[1] See: https://bushsnobinafrica.wordpress.com/2015/06/30/life-and-work-in-kenya-muguga1/ and https://bushsnobinafrica.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/kenya-muguga1/

[2] Siafu (in Swahili) are members of the Dorylus genus, also known as driver or safari ants. They are army ants between 1-15 mm in length found primarily in central and east Africa in large colonies (up to several million individuals). They move in columns as they travel from their lair to the hunting field or they spread when actively hunting by sensing the carbon dioxide that insects and animals breath out. Aggressive soldiers protect the colonies.

[3] A common term used to refer to “white” people.

The Eagle and the Baobab

Keep reading, this is not a children’s story, despite the title!

I knew this project would be difficult from the beginning as war movies dealing with eagles show a lot of hard work and heavy casualties!

In earlier visits to Hippo Pools Wilderness camp[1] ( and even earlier ones) I learnt that the camp offers a number of attractions for those feeling like trekking. Among these are old ruins, San paintings, several viewpoints a large baobab and various eagle nests. I was aware that both Verreaux’s and Crowned eagles had nested nearby for many years but I had not seen them before.

Aware of this possibility on arrival I enquired about the eagles’ and I was informed that there was also one of an African Hawk Eagle that had a fledgling. I expressed my interest on a walk to the site but later on I was informed -to my regret- that the bird was no longer where it had been seen before. However, before I could feel too bad, I was told that an egg had been spotted at the Crown’s eagle nest and that we could go there instead! I immediately booked a walk for the following morning.

The walking party.

The walking party.

We left about 07:00 hours and walked for about one and one half hours over rather broken terrain and mainly uphill. After going for about an hour we spotted one of the eagles perched a long way away. However, we were advised that the nest was not in that direction but up the hill! It was clearly one of the pair, probably the male eagle scouting for food as these eagles are special in that the male often feeds the female while she incubates.

The first eagle.

The first eagle.

Close-up of the first eagle.

Close-up of the first eagle.

It should be noted that these eagles are not common and rather secretive and as Roberts VII Multimedia Birds of Southern Africa puts it, “Normally chooses the tallest canopy tree in which to build its large stick platform nest”. Luckily I did not know this while our trek was in progress as I was having additional difficulties with my recently acquired hiking shoes that were destroying my toes!

Examining an interesting cave en route to the nest.

Examining an interesting cave en route to the nest.

After another thirty minutes of steep uphill walk, we got to the general area where the nest was. Although I could not yet see it, my companions did and they got excited about what they saw. Eventually I spotted the nest as well as the second eagle perched about one metre above it.

Getting close to the nest meant that our up hill walk changed into a steep climb until we managed to get to a large rock above the nest. From this really great vantage point we could appreciate the situation and observe. We sat down and remained quiet while my toes throbbed, also quietly…

The return of the eagle to the nest and egg moving.

The return of the eagle to the nest and egg moving.

The nest was large, much larger than I had anticipated! Clearly it had been there for a number of years and its occupants had made a good job at building it. It must have been about two metres across and at least one and one half metres deep! This was a large nest for the species as Roberts VII Multimedia mentions an average diametre of 1.5-1.8 m with a height of up to 70 cm but old nests -such as this one- can reach up to two to three metres in diametre and three metres in height as the eagles add new material every year.

By the time we reached the “watching rock” the eagle was no longer there and we (or rather my companions) could see the egg that, on further observation, turned out to be two! While watching the nest the eagle came back and, after turning the eggs with its beak, literally “sunk” over them and stayed there unmoved by our presence for the rest of the time. Crown eagles are large birds reaching a height of up to 99 cm (tail included) being the fifth longest eagle that exists weighing about 4 kg with a wingspan of 1.50 to 1.80 m, comparatively short for the bird’s bulk. Mainly the female incubates for about 50 days and two eggs laid but normally only one chick goes through as siblicide is the norm. Only after 9-11 weeks the new bird is fully feathered and able to leave nest for nearby branches at 110-115 days. Despite its large size, the bird was truly dwarfed by its nest!

The eagle "sunk" in the nest.

The eagle “sunk” in the nest.

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Over 95 per cent of this eagle’s prey are mammals and they have a reputation for being great fliers and being able to take off vertically inside the forest. I was wrong in thinking that they fed mainly on monkeys, as these mammals are only 7 per cent of its diet. Their usual prey are hyraxes and small/young antelope (65 per cent).

We returned to camp from the eagle’s nest via the baobab tree. I have already spent time on these fantastic trees in a recent post on Chitake so I will not waste too many words. This particular baobab has two main visible features: spikes driven up its trunk and a hole that allows you to see the inside and even enter the tree if you are interested and adventurous. Probably the spikes are there to enable people to collect either tree produce or honey but we could not tell.

The baobab.

The baobab.

The large hole.

The large hole.

The spikes.

The spikes.

As we did not carry torches while looking for eagle nests during the day, there was not enough light to undertake a proper examination of the tree’s interior. We saw that there were some sun rays that filtered through small gaps on the roof, where the branches had sprouted, indicating that the top of the tree is not sealed tightly (as I thought) but there are gaps in its cortex. The holes were small and the light was not enough for us to see inside so we appealed to the trick of using the camera flash to look inside.

The inside of the tree. The spikes are seen on the right upper corner. The flying bat (centre bottom) and stationary bats (centre top), The small light spots are gaps on the top of the tree.

The inside of the tree. The spikes are seen on the right upper corner. The flying bat (centre bottom) and stationary bats (centre top), The small light spots are gaps on the top of the tree.

We saw that there were also spikes inside the tree! Although we did not detect any animal presence or smell (particularly the pungent bat smell!) inside the trunk, we took some pictures and, later examination of these, we noticed a small dark spot on its pale brown interior. It was a bat caught in flight! Further observation and enlargement of the pictures revealed other bats hanging from the roof, not in bunches but keeping distance from one another.

Close-up of the bats.

Close-up of the bats.

By the time we finished our observations of the baobab it was lunchtime and hot so we took walked back to camp, my toes still complaining in silence!

Hippo Pools Camp, Zimbabwe, 8 October 2015.


[1] https://bushsnobinafrica.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/hippo-pools-revisited-2/

Caput Mundi – A Waterless Coral Reef

While walking along the Appian Way I described in Caput Mundi Revisited that we passed by the Istituto Salesiano San Callisto[1] on our way to Church of St Mary in Palmis and then to the city centre.

Istituto Salesiano San Callisto.

Istituto Salesiano San Callisto.

We noted that the front of the Istituto had acquired a new feature: a marvelous collection of succulents. The comparison with coral formations as seen in the Indian Ocean was immediate so we decided that a closer examination was required. What we found is presented here as a pictorial account. No attempt at identifying the plants was made and I leave that to the readers interested in cacti!


While carefully looking at the plants we noted that seashells had been placed surrounding the plants, a clear reminder to us that whoever did this wonderful work had also thought of the sea!

It is clearly difficult to be original in this world!

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[1] I wrongly referred to it as Dio Silvano college in my Caput Mundi Revisited post, apologies.

Caput Mundi revisited

It is back to Rome in 2015, after a few years’ absence. We are on our way to our son’s graduation in Scotland and we will visit our daughter (the Editor of the blog!) in Milano before that. After this is completed, it will be back to Africa.

After a 13 hour of a rather sleepless flight we arrived at our friends house in the Via Appia, yes, we are very fortunate to stay at that magnificent place where once upon a time the Roman legions moved in and out of Rome on their way to Africa and other conquests!

The weather as it is normal here is great, sunny and warm without being too hot yet. On arrival and unable to sleep due to jet lag we decided to walk to town following the Appian way to stretch our legs, get tired and sleep well.

A view of the Appian Way.

A view of the Appian Way.

From our friends’ house we passed the Capo di Bove with its thermal baths dating back to the middle of the 2nd century. These baths were used privately until at least the 4th century and its name derived from the cattle head sculptures on the nearby tomb of Caecilia Metella. We also passed the latter, the best preserved mausoleum that signaled that we were three miles from Rome. Caecilia Metella was the granddaughter of Marcus Crassus who served under Julius Caesar.

The Caecilia Metella Mausoleum.

The Caecilia Metella Mausoleum.

After a short while we passed the Basilica of St. Sebastian that is also the entry of the homonymous catacombs and built originally in the first half of the 4th century. St. Sebastian was a popular Roman martyr of the 3rd century and the church was built over a small catacomb. Continuing on our way we crossed the Via Ardeatina and, before the tomb of L. Volumnius and I. Tyrannis we turn left to enter into a favourite area of ours where the Catacombs of Callixtus are located.

The church of St. Sebastian is seen in the background.

At our favourite walk. The church of St. Sebastian is seen in the background.



This is an approximately 2 km walk over beautiful fields at the moment sprinkled with red poppies, where the Dio Silvano college and the Ipogeo de Vibia are also found that ends back in the Appian Way, just across the Church of St Mary in Palmis, better known as the church of Domine Quo Vadis. It was here that, according to the legend, St. Peter had a vision of Jesus and asked him: “Lord, where are you going?” (In Latin: Domine, quo vadis?) to what Jesus answered, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again” (In Latin: Romam vado iterum crucifigi). After this encounter St. Peter returned to his own crucifixion!

Church of St Mary in Palmis.

Church of St Mary in Palmis.

After this rather historical walk we moved to the actual modern city where we did some shopping, ate some pizza on the street and ended up with ice cream from our favourite shop at Garbatella quarter, The latter was founded in the late 1920s with its typical project units (In Italian: “lottos”), Rococo-style buildings grouped together around a common yard. This gives this quarter a friendly and rather familiar atmosphere.

Garbatella's typical architecture.

Garbatella’s typical architecture.

When I looked at the pedometer it showed 9 km! It was time for a “cappuccino stop”. After the tasty pause we recovered our forces and got back home trying to find a shorter way!

A "smiley" cappuccino...

Our “smiley” cappuccino…

Errata: What I referred to as Dio Silvano College was in fact the Istituto Salesiano San Callisto.