~ Roman Monographs ~

part III
Main Fountains


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The Quirinal Palace, official residence of the head of state (pope at first, then the king, and now the president), spreads with its gardens over the top of the Quirinal hill. Its main entrance is on one side of a large square at the bottom of the long and straight via del Quirinale, once called via Pia, along which the aqueduct ran (see again the map in page 6).
During the reign of Sixtus V, the works for the making of the building were still in progress, having started in 1573. In fact, the pope was still using the palace only as a summer residence.
Since the pressure of the water carried by the previous aqueduct was too low to reach the top of the hill, the Quirinal Palace suffered the lack of running water, until this important need could be satisfied thanks to the new Aqua Felix.

Soon after the Fountain of Moses had been finished, Fontana was given the charge of building a fountain for the square in front of the palace (1588-1590).

the Dioscuri, as featured in maps of Rome dated 1410 and 1472
During the Middle Ages the Quirinal hill was given the nickname Montecavallo ("horse hill") due to a large twin marble group featuring two male figures (the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, sons of Jupiter) and their horses, roman copies of a Greek original.
The Dioscuri stood on one side of the square, joined together as a single block, looking westwards in front of the no longer existing remains of the Baths of Constantine (whom they originally belonged to).

Fontana thought of using the two statues; he had them restored throughoutly, and dragged them to the center of the square, turning them about 90 to the right, so to close the end of via Pia. He then placed his fountain right below them.
Undoubtly reminiscent of Della Porta's style, this fountain too rested over three steps; it had a four-lobed lower basin, and the upper one was supported by a central baluster; at the level of the third step, a further narrow ground basin or pool surrounded the fountain.

This structure remained unchanged for about two centuries, despite the fountain ran the risk of being removed, on two different occasions: in fact pope Alexander VII (1655-67) had thought of placing it in piazza Santi Apostoli, while pope Clement XI (1700-21) had considered replacing it with the Antonine column, but neither of the two projects were carried out.

Fontana's arrangement of the fountain (by G.B.Piranesi)

Meanwhile, about 800 metres or  mile further south, in the Roman Forum area, once called Campo Vaccino after the cattle market that used to be held there, in 1587 a round granite basin was found; it had probably belonged to an ancient roman fountain.
Giacomo Della Porta was given commission of turning it into a large drinking-trough for horses and cattle (see also part I and part II), so he carved for it a large grotesque face; Campo Vaccino was among the spots where a full-sized fountain had been scheduled, but Sixtus V thought that for the market's purposes a large trough would have been enough.

the basin by the mid 1700s, (left) in an etching
by G.Vasi, and (right) in a painting by P.Anesi;
(centre) the face that hung from it

In 1782 Pius VI decided to refurbish piazza del Quirinale; one of the two obelisks that once flanked the tomb of emperor Octavianus Augustus was moved to the square, in front of the palace (its twin had already been stood at the back of the basilica of St.Mary the Major by the late 1500s). On the same occasion, the pope thought of giving the oblivioned basin in Campo Vaccino a more dignified collocation, below the spire.
The Dioscuri statues were separated, and turned so to form a 90 angle, in which the obelisk was actually erected. This time the old fountain by Domenico Fontana had no luck: it was definitively removed, in order to replace it with the ancient granite basin, and was never seen again (either sold, or broken).

the ancient roman basin

the ultimate arrangement of the fountain

The works took some time, and just when the basin from Campo Vaccino was on the point of being carried to the Quirinal hill, on February 15, 1798 the Papal State fell to Napoleon's troops, and Rome was taken. The works came to a stop, and the square was left for several years without its fountain.

Only after Napoleon's fall the French occupation came to an end (1815), the pope came back to Rome and the work was resumed. In 1818 the square achieved its present look: the basin was finally set into place, mounted over a short stout baluster, and given a further round pool at ground level. It is also known as the Fountain of the Dioscuri, but this name appears inappropriate, as the two statues do not belong to its structure.

other pages in part III

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