~ Curious And Unusual ~
- 10 -

A Naughty Fountain

the scandal of the naked Naiads


Piazza della Repubblica, once called piazza dell'Esedra (a name still in use by many elderly people), is one of Rome's busiest spots, a wide crossing located very close to Rome's central train station, former site of the huge Baths of Diocletian, whose surviving exedra gave the place its old name.
In the middle of the square is a large fountain named after the figures of the four Naiads, or water nymphs, which decorate its sides.

The story of this fountain dates back to the late 19th century.

the Fountain of the Naiads, in piazza della Repubblica


the Naiad of the Oceans
Just a few days before Rome was taken by the Italian troops, putting an end to the Papal State, in the late summer of 1870 pope Pius IX had a new aqueduct built. It was named Acqua Pia-Marcia (after the ancient Aqua Marcia, built in 144 BC, and after the pope's own name) and it had its main output about 80 metres (or yards) off the the present fountain, towards the central railway station, whose making was in progress.

Only a few years later, the new government decided to refurbish the whole place, and a larger fountain was built on its present location. By that time its simple shape was that of a series of basins at different levels, as no statue decorated it yet. But in the people's general impression, the new fountain was still missing something.
So in 1888, on the occasion of an official visit to Rome by the German emperor William II, lions made of plaster were temporarily placed in the four corners of the fountain, to improve its look.

The people of Rome complained against this fake solution, and the city council decided to have real statues steadily made for this purpose.
A Sicilian artist, Mario Rutelli (incidentally, the grandfather of Rome's former mayor Francesco Rutelli), was given commission for this work.

The figures were to represent four water nymphs: the Naiad of the Oceans, the Naiad of the Rivers, the Naiad of the Lakes and the Naiad of the Underground Waters, each one featured with an allegorical animal that recalled their respective environments.

(↑ above) the Naiad of the Underground Waters;
(right →) the Naiad of the Lakes
Nobody imagined what the artist had concieved, and when the statues were finally set into place the population was shocked by the result. Now on the fountain stood four completely naked young female figures, whose bodies, soaked by the water that gushed from a large nozzle at the back, glittered in the sun in very lascivious attitudes!


the Fountain of the Naiads from a late 1800s postcard,
still with lions made of plaster, surrounded by a railing
Initially, an iron railing surrounded the fountain, a protective measure once adopted for several city monuments. This did not discourage crowds of young men from gathering on this spot, with the only purpose of admiring the shapely Naiads. The conservative wing, faithful to the old papal government, complained and battled to have them taken away, in the name of morality and decency.

The city council took position in favour of the 'progressive' side: not only the Naiads remained in place, but in 1901 the railing too was finally removed.
Meanwhile, a solution for the central and uppermost part of the fountain had yet to be devised.


(↑ above) the Naiad of the Rivers
Rutelli, probably disappointed by the commotion caused by his work, prepared a rather bizzarre group that featured three human figures, a dolphin and an octopus, tangled together in a wrestle. In 1911, on the occasion of Rome's International Exposition, the first model made of mortar was set on top of the fountain, waiting to be replaced by the final version in bronze. But the group received sarcastic comments, and was nicknamed 'the fish fry of Termini'.
The artist was then asked to design a further, more sober group, and the ultimate result was the single male figure embracing a dolphin, which received a warmer welcome.

Rutelli's 'fish fry' after the restoration

The model of the 'fish fry', instead, was moved to the gardens in piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, where it was used for decorating a small pond (below left). In the early 1970s, due to the works for the subway station below the square, the pond had to be drained and filled up; Rutelli's group was left on the spot, once again without a purpose, almost abandoned. Deposits and concretions made its figures barely recognizable. But despite its critical conditions, on the occasion of a recent refurbishment of the whole square, the 'fish fry' was restored as much as possible. Some of its details are forever lost, due to the mortar's poor resistance, but the overall look of the group has been definitely improved.


↑ vintage picture of the fountain in piazza Vittorio Emanuele II
the Fountain of the Naiads in the sunlight →