~ Roman Monographs ~

part III
Main Fountains


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grotesque face, from the
fountain in piazza Campitelli

A few among the main fountains supplied by the Aqua Felix were semipublic. This special deal between a private individual (usually belonging to a noble and/or rich family) and the public administration has already been described in part II page 1, about the small fountains: the owner of an estate could build a fountain for public use, in a square next to his property, being granted free water, funds and sometimes marble or stone, upon the promise of taking care of its regular maintainance and repairs (when needed). The owner's benefit in doing this was the opportunity of diverting into his house or private grounds a certain amount of the available water for his personal use, and especially to increase the value of his property thanks to the presence of running water.
As a last entry for this page, also the fountain of piazza dell'Ara Coeli has been included, not because semipublic, but because very close to the one in piazza Campitelli, and because both of them are related to the Muti family.


Via Pia, i.e. the street followed by the Aqua Felix, running over the top of the Quirinal hill, was crossed by another important street, via Felice (see map in page 6). This crossing is now famous because three of Rome's ancient obelisks can be seen in the distance from this spot, in three different directions.
By the time of Sixtus V, two of these spires had not yet been moved to their present location, but the crossing was important all the same, as via Pia and via Felice were the only two main roads that reached this district, still almost desertic after the Middle Ages.

the fountain of the Tiber
Muzio Mattei, for whom a fountain had been built in front of his family palace (see the Fountain of the Tortoises, page 5), was also the owner of another property next to the crossing, and agreements were made to have a public source of water built on this spot. The author of the project, who regretfully remained unkown (some mention Domenico Fontana, but no evidence can be found), had the brilliant idea of setting one fountain in each corner, not to cause any hindrance to the rather narrow roadway of this busy crossing. Three of the houses from which they hang belonged to the Mattei family, while the fourth fountain was cared for by a different owner, called Giacomo Gridenzoni.

the fountain of Juno

The work took about six years (1588-93) during which, after Sixtus V, four different popes were elected.

the fountain of the Arno
The shape of each fountain had to fit the features of the relevant building. The last one to be built, with Diana, was completed by the famous architect and artist Pietro da Cortona, who in the meantime had replaced the original author in charge of the works. This may explain why the final result is asymmetrical.

The fountains seem to match in couples, either by their theme or by their shape. Two of them feature female goddesses of ancient Rome's mythology, namely Juno (corner marked 1 in the map below) and Diana (4), while the other two bearded male figures are allegories of two rivers, namely the Tiber (2) and the Arno (in Florence, 3).

the fountain of Diana, lacking a background

All four figures are reclining, and in front of each of them the water pours into a small semicircular basin. But while the Tiber and Juno stand before a somewhat elaborate background, the Arno has a much more sober one, a relief featuring a scanty river vegetation, and Diana has none, simply resting in front of the building (which is though no longer the original one).

Due to their arrangement, the fountains that a passer-by faces coming from the former via Felice (now via delle Quattro Fontane) are either the two rivers (23) or the two goddesses (14), i.e. matching themes but with different backgrounds.

the crossing with its modern street names;
the districts are stated in red

coat of arms of Sixtus V
(Peretti family)
Instead walking along the former via Pia (now via del Quirinale and via XX Settembre) one sees a combination of a river and a goddess, either with elaborate fronts (Tiber-Juno, 21) or with simple ones (Arno-Diana, 34).

Lastly, due to the borders of three different districts that run by this crossing, the two goddesses are locted in the Rione II (Trevi), the Tiber in the Rione I (Monti) and the Arno in the Rione XVIII (Castro Pretorio).

Some details of the four compositions are worthy of being noticed. On the fountain of Juno spreads its wings a peacock, the favourite bird of the goddess. Instead, on one side of the Tiber's figure, the she-wolf of Rome comes out from a cave, where she feeds the mythical twins Romulus and Remus.

the she-wolf of Rome and
the twins, partly hidden
The fountain of Diana bears the insignia of pope Sixtus V disguised as decorative details: the water gushes from three small hills, on which the goddess rests her elbow by her crouching dog, while the side of the basin features stars in relief and a lion's head in the centre.
↑ Juno's peacock and Diana's dog →
with the three hills of pope Sixtus V

A further lion also peeps from behind the Arno's figure.

The corner where the Tiber fountain stands belongs to a famous church by Borromini, San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (also mentioned in The 22 Rioni, Rione I, Monti), whose making though started over half a century after the four fountains had been finished.

the fountain of piazza Campitelli; on the right is Palazzo Capizucchi

The list of fountains agreed for the Aqua Felix mentioned one for the corner of the Tor de' Specchi monastery, facing the northern side of the Capitolium hill. It was built only a few metres (or yards) off the scheduled spot, in a narrow square named after the district, piazza Campitelli, right in front of the church of Santa Maria in Campitelli. The expenses were partly payed by four families, owners of palaces that stand in the same square, or next to it, namely the Capizucchi, the Ricca, the Albertoni and the Muti.
Being a work by della Porta, its shape followed the architect's usual scheme: a round basin, a central baluster, a larger basin below, and a stand.

In this case the lower basin is octagonal, with alternate straight and concave sides, decorated with two grotesque faces (one of them has donkey ears, see the opening picture of this page), and the coats of arms of the four families whose funds the fountain had been built with.
Its large base, octagonal as well, is not hollow but has only a small crease that runs all around the fountain as a drain, collecting the water that trickles from above and is also spouted by the grotesque faces.

(from the left)  coats of arms of the Muti, Capizucchi, Ricca and Albertoni, on the four concave sides of the basin

In 1675 the church of Santa Maria in Campitelli was enlarged; since the religious services were often disturbed by the noise made by the many people who drew water from the fountain, the latter was moved to one side of the building, where it now stands.


Piazza dell'Aracoeli is a small square below the northern side of the Capitolium, named after the medieval church atop the same hill.
In 1589, despite the spot was already supplied by plenty of Acqua Felice water (see the Capitolium fountains, page 8, and the one in piazza Campitelli, previously described), della Porta was given the commission of building there a further fountain, in front of Palazzo Muti.

the pale lines refer to the
original steps, later removed
This one was not semipublic, as suggested by the lack of the Muti family's coat of arms among its decorations, and because the same family had already given a contribution for the making of the aforesaid fountain of piazza Campitelli.

once two steps surrounded the fountain

the top element
Instead, this may have been considered as a replacement for the one in piazza Altieri, not far from this spot, that had never been built due to the small size of the square, despite having been included both in the project of the Salone water and in that of the Aqua Felix.
Della Porta remained faithful to his scheme, as usual adding some interesting details to his composition.
The upper basin supports the three hills insignia, surrounded by four small putti holding tiny amphors that pour water, likely inspired by those of the old fountain in St.Peter's square (see page 1), which in those days was still extant. The outer side of the basin is decorated with four water-spouting faces.
The stout marble baluster rests on a square block carved with heads and festoons.
The lower basin is oval, vaguely resembling a ship, and so is the base on which it rests; it has four faces, similar to the afore-mentioned ones.

Originally, below the fountain were also two steps in the same elongated shape, each of which surrounded by a narrow basin that collected the water trickling from the larger one; in the 19th century they were removed, and replaced by a more standard ground basin or pool with a circular shape.

coat of arms of Alexander VII
(Chigi family)
About twenty years after the making of the fountain, Alexander VII thought of moving it from piazza dell'Aracoeli to piazza Santi Apostoli, in order to give the latter square the long-awaited source of water, that had already been promised twice by the previous programs: But also in this case the project was abandoned.
By that time the coat of arms of the pope's family, the Chigi, was added to the fountain's baluster.

the baluster with the coat of arms, now barely readable

other pages in part III

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