The Fontana della Barcaccia has been in the news recently and I wondered about the meaning. Unfortunately English Wikipedia says "Fountain of the ugly boat" as does Wikipedia French (vilain bateau), while Dutch Wikipedia says "Fountain of the leaky boat" (lekkende boot) and I found a German site saying "Fountain of the old boat" (alten Bootes).

No doubt a boat can be old, ugly and leaky all at once, but which is correct in this case?

  • I marked @DaG's answer as "right" after much deliberation; Josh61's answer was also excellent. Grazie! What a wonderful language to have a word for "old, ugly, leaky boat". Incidentally when enclosed in quotes Google translates "barcaccia" as "old tub" which is not far off.
    – NL_Derek
    Mar 22, 2015 at 20:55
  • Thanks, NL_Derek! Yes, Itallian suffixes to alterate the meaning of words (diminutive, augmentative, pejorative, terms of endearment and the like) are a great resource of Italian language, sometimes not exploited thoroughly even by us Italians.
    – DaG
    Mar 23, 2015 at 11:05

2 Answers 2


In general, -accia is the feminine form of -accio, both being pejorative suffixes: a giornataccia is a giornata, day, in which nothing goes well, while a donnaccia is a not-to-elegant, not-to-honest donna, “woman” (ok, that would be more like a whore). So, in general, a barcaccia is simply a defective (ugly, damaged, irregularly shaped, whatever) barca, “boat”.

This term, however, came to be used in particular to designate a specific type of mercantile boats, something like a barge (see for instance 1.b of this for a more generic definition, which in any case shows it to be not just a generic bad boat).

Even more in particular, the boat represented in this fountain by Bernini had to have a low hull and to appear partially sunken under the street level, since it commemorated 1598 flooding of part of Rome by Tiber river, but mainly because the Acqua Vergine aqueduct feeding it had too low a pressure to allow a higher structure.


According to the Italian Wikipedia extract the name refers to an old boat in very bad conditions, close to sinking. Actually a barcaccia was a kind of flattish boat used in ancient Rome to transport barrels of wine up and down the river Tiber.

  • Il nome “barcaccia” richiama una vecchia imbarcazione prossima all’affondamento. Più verosimilmente, era chiamata “barcaccia” quel tipo di imbarcazione che, nell’antica Roma, veniva usata per il trasporto fluviale di botti di vino, e che, molto simile all'opera berniniana, aveva appunto le fiancate particolarmente basse per facilitare l’imbarco e lo sbarco delle botti stesse.

The fountain before restoration

The fountain after restoration

  • 2
    This is a not-to-recent photograph, taken before the recent restoration, which made it clean and pristine, finished a few months before the recent acts of vandalism.
    – DaG
    Mar 20, 2015 at 23:18

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