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When I visited Rome and walked around the older sections, I saw many different types of fountains that were constantly running with water. Some went into the ground, some collected in basins, etc.

Is the water coming out of these fountains potable? Safe for visitors to drink from? Any etiquette regarding their use that a visitor should know about?

These are the fountains known as nasoni (or "large noses"), for example:

enter image description here

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    In most of Europe you can assume water is drinkable except if it explicitly states that it is not. In italian drinkable is potabile so an indication of non potabile means that it is not drinkable. – Giacomo Alzetta Dec 10 '19 at 8:14
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    ... and in some places even if it says "not drinkable" (but you won't know which of the "not drinkable"s :-( ): here in Germany, lots of sources are labeled as non drinkable as otherwise the municipality would need to run regular analyses to guarantee water quality by law. So many places decided that this is too expensive. Unfortunately, there's no legal way to say "people have been (mostly) fine for hundreds of years drinking from this source, so do so at your own slight risk" as opposed to e.g. "this is an area formerly famous for lead mining. Keep away from this spring, it is toxic." – cbeleites unhappy with SX Dec 10 '19 at 9:25
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    Maybe I'll state the obvious, but I wouldn't drink the water in the fountain, instead I'd drink the water flowing from the fountain. The water in the basin might be dirty already. – Tim Dec 10 '19 at 14:50
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    @MarkJohnson Your "It was good enough for my father, therefore..."-argument doesn't hold, at all. Asbestos fibres were used everywhere (including as cushioning playgrounds, and the 'snow' in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz) but now that's frowned upon, and the Romans used lead pipes for their water which slowly poisoned them... So "people have been drinking since X" is not too relevant; people in (say) Delhi drink whatever gives tourists 'Delhi belly' so there's the matter of number and variety of micro-organisms, as well as contaminants (like arsenic in many wells in the Hymalayas etc). – user3445853 Dec 11 '19 at 14:08
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    @jwenting, user3445853 The point is, a city that has more than 2000 years practical experience in doing it properly, won't be offering water to its population that harmful - which some seem think is the case. – Mark Johnson Dec 11 '19 at 14:28
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Ah, the large noses. I did last year. Had no issues.

There are approximately 2,500–2,800 nasoni in Rome, supplying citizens and tourists with free drinking water.

The water coming from the nasoni is the same supplied to the city's households and thus safe for drinking.

Further reading:

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    I came to give the same answer i.e. "I did and I'm not dead yet" – Bee Dec 10 '19 at 10:40
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    Good answer but you could add that if a specific fountain is not drinkable it would say "non potabile". – algiogia Dec 10 '19 at 11:20
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    @Bee and Mark anecdotal evidence usually isn't that useful. Especially in cases like this where the vast majority of the population will be okay drinking even unsafe water. but if a young child, an elderly person or some other person with immune issues were to drink the same water they could face dire consequences. – Aequitas Dec 11 '19 at 4:57
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    @Aequitas Hence why neither of us just left an answer that said "Well I did and didn't get sick" – Bee Dec 16 '19 at 10:33
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Assuming that decorative fountains with statues and a large water basins are also meant by the word "fountain", these are not a potable source - in history, the water must have been taken from a high-level placed water source, which would give power to the fountain, and that source might be a river or a pond or anything else. Modern fountains like this one are recycling their own water instead, so it gets dirty over time, that implies it's not drinkable either. Fontana del Tritone

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    Excellent point! As an American, this is what I generally think of when I think of "European fountain". I know there are other kinds, but this is what initially springs to mind. – FreeMan Dec 10 '19 at 17:20
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    People also throw coins in these and soak their feet. So, no way this is safe to drink. – Quora Feans Dec 11 '19 at 14:07
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Don't directly drink with your mouth; use a bottle or put your finger one the spout and the water will flow up from the small hole.

See this example on youtube.

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    How is this relevant to the safety? – Quora Feans Dec 11 '19 at 14:08
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    @QuoraFeans The original question also included a request for pointers regarding etiquette. – Mara Dec 11 '19 at 14:17
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Based on your question, I would assume you are not a native European. I would feel just as surprised if I went outside of Europe and someone told me I must not drink from a certain fountain, just as you would when you see tons of people drinking from fountains everywhere. Fountains in Europe are actually very common, and I believe there are 3 types of water you can run into, while drinking from them.

You could come across normal water, just like the one you would drink home. It has been filtered by the city's household water suppliers.

The other kind is spring water - coming from the mountains, though in most cases fountains are built at the site where a spring is rushing out locally. It is safe to drink, non-filtered natural water.

The third kind is also very common for me, since I come from Bulgaria, though not as common everywhere in Europe - mineral springs. Just as normal springs, fountains are build around the place where such a spring would emerge, but it is actual mineral-rich water you can drink for free!

The only article I could find about this in English is this rather short one.

It says that only about 30% of the mineral spring are utilized, and this would most likely be due to the rest occurring at hard to reach places. We do however have huge mineral fountains in a few cities where there are above the average by water debit mineral springs. People with multiple 10 liter (~2.62 gallon) water tubs are often sighted at these places, where they stockpile free mineral water for the week.

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    Correct, I am not a native European. In all of the places I have lived, it is not uncommon to see metal drinking fountains inside buildings. But not normal to see stone fountains placed in random walls, many of them appearing to be custom made. In a city that is full of old things, as an outsider, it is hard to know if these are meant for practical use, or are just part of the "old city architecture" and are to be viewed but not touched. – Yaakov Ellis Dec 10 '19 at 14:49
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    I think that the general rule is - if it looks usable, it probably is! Municipalities are usually fast to close down or shut the water to potentially hazardous such fountains/places. Even if they are part of the old architecture they are most likely looked after. As one of the users said - if it is not suitable for drinking, it will explicitly say so. – Snop Doog Dec 10 '19 at 14:52
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    @SnopDoog, I am European (Dutch) and here you will only find button operated drinking water fountains and till recently not many of those. And that is also the case for more west European countries. – Willeke Dec 10 '19 at 16:54
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    Europe is a big place. You'll never find drinking fountains like that in the UK, for example. I lived in Greece for two years and don't recall them there, either. – David Richerby Dec 10 '19 at 20:19
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    minor nitpick: the mountain sources are filtered by the rock the water passes. For the mineral springs, don't forget that some of them contain unpleasant amounts of minerals (where I am, many of the drinkable mineral springs have iron content that can cause stomach ache) or outright toxic minerals (we have arsenic in some mineral springs closeby - not much, the water is used for medical//spa treatment, but it is certainly not recommended to drink on a regular basis) – cbeleites unhappy with SX Dec 11 '19 at 13:49

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