~ Roman Monographs ~

· part III ·
Main Fountains


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The districts lying by the east bank of the Tiber, namely Ponte and Regola, were the next to benefit from the making of the Acqua Paola. Here some rich mansions still suffered a lack of running water, which was already available in the adjacent districts, thanks to the Salone Water (formerly Aqua Virgo) and the Acqua Felice, but reached this part of Rome with a very low pressure, insufficient for the making of further fountains. Thanks to a branch of the Acqua Paola that ran parallel to the river's eastern bank, the needs of both districts could be finally satisfied.
the Acqua Paola and its branch (blue)
crossing Ponte and Regola districts (red)


In the heart of Ponte is a hillock named Monte Giordano. During the Middle Ages it was the site of a fortress that belonged to the powerful Orsini family.

Following its demolition, in the 15th century the previous building was replaced by a mansion, initially called Palazzo Orsini. During the 1700s the Orsini sold this property to the Gabrielli, and one century later it was bought by the Taverna, whence the name of the mansion was changed into the present denomination, Palazzo Taverna.
When the first fountains were built in Rome (see page 2), this spot had already been included in the first project, agreed under pope Gregory XIII, provided that the running water could reach the spot; but since this condition had not been met, Monte Giordano had been cancelled.

← the gate of Palazzo Taverna (once Orsini); note the fountain, at the back

As soon as the Acqua Paola's water became available, Antonio Casoni was given commission for the making of a decorative fountain for the mansion's central court.
The architect drew a magnificent composition, finished in 1618, consisting of four basins of different sizes. The two upper (smaller) ones are supported by a central baluster and have a flourish on two sides; the water gushes from the top basin, and trickles down into the remaining three, filling them in turn.
Once the structure also included two standing bears - the name Orsini actually means "small bears" - resting on a wall on both sides of the fountain; they held the family's coat of arms, while spouting a jet of water into the second basin.
But when in the 18th century Palazzo Orsini changed owners the courtyard was altered, a tall hedge was built around the fountain, and the bears, slightly moved from their original position, stopped working and were left merely as decorations above the wall.

the fountain of palazzo Orsini (etching by G.B.Falda)

the fountain, in its present condition
Today the amount of water that the fountain of Monte Giordano receives has been considerably reduced, and signs of ageing are quite evident.
Since it is still now a private property of the Taverna, the mansion's court is not accessible to the public. Although this section disregards fountains located in buildings and villas (as disclaimed in the foreword), this one has been included as an exception, as it is clearly visible, at any time, through the gate of the mansion's main entrance.

one of the bears that once spouted water

one of the two fountains, in the southern half of piazza Farnese

Piazza Farnese is the main square of Regola district; its western side is entirely occupied by the façade of Palazzo Farnese, one of the largest and most beautiful Renaissance mansions in Rome, created by talented architects such as Antonio Sangallo the Younger, Michelangelo, and the same prolific fountain-maker Giacomo della Porta. The artistic importance of Palazzo Farnese once matched the political power of the family who dwelt in it. But despite the Farnese counted among their members a pope (Paul III), a cardinal, and several important officers, the mansion could be supplied by running water only after the making of the aforesaid branch of the Acqua Paola.

Up to the 1500s, in the middle of piazza Farnese (once called piazza del Duca) stood an ancient tub made of granite, of Roman age; commonly used in public baths of ancient Rome, most of these tubs, including this one, had a very traditional shape, with two handles and a lion head carved on each side.
a bullfight below Palazzo Farnese (c.1535); →

← the detail shows people enjoying the show from
inside the only tub in the centre of the square
It had been found in the Baths of Carcalla and had been set in the square merely as a decoration, but since bullfights were sometimes held in front of Palazzo Farnese, the people used it also as a comfortable and safe standpoint from where the dangerous show could be followed, as seen in the etching on the right.

early 1600s: piazza del Duca (piazza Farnese)
now had two tubs; nearby, in Campo de' Fiori,
a fountain had already been built, see page 5
Another ancient tub stood in piazza San Marco, presently piazza Venezia; one century earlier (mid 1400s) pope Paul II had moved it from the Colosseum's surroundings to the square where his own mansion stood, see page 4. Being very similar to the one in front of Palazzo Farnese, sometime during the second half of the 16th century cardinal Alessandro Farnese, wishing to form a pair, asked the papal authorities for the other tub, and gave in exchange for it a slightly smaller one, that had been unearthed in one of the family's several estates.
The two tubs were arranged in their present position (picture on the left). Since in those days the ducts of the Salone Water were reaching many districts, it is likely that the Farnese had already thought of having fountains made from them. But due to the long distance from the aqueduct's main outlet this was impossible, until the Acqua Paola was built.

In 1626 the distinguished architect Girolamo Rainaldi, influenced by Giacomo della Porta and Domenico Fontana, turned the two tubs into elegant twin fountains.
Despite their late Renaissance design might have appeared slightly backdated, they matched the style of the beautiful mansion in front of which they stood. The two ancient Roman remains were placed by Rainaldi inside a basin at ground level, with an elongated geometrical shape; inside the tubs, a small baluster supports a boat-shaped tiny basin, on top of which a large lily, the device of the Farnese family (repeatedly found also among the building's decorations) spouts a jet of water. Two other smaller outlets are placed inside the tub, one at each end, and four more inside the lower basin.
the other twin fountain

the lion heads from the two tubs
In the same years, another small fountain with a grotesque face and a drinking trough was built at the back of Palazzo Farnese, in via Giulia (see part II page 1); this one too is topped by a lily, indicating that its making was sponsored by the same Farnese family.

In Regola district, small fountains supplied by the Acqua Paola were also built on the façade of Palazzo del Monte di Pietà (likely by Carlo Maderno) and, half a century later, in front of Palazzo Spada; both of them are shown in part II page 1.


Around 1615, another branch of the Acqua Paola was built so to cross the Tiber Island and climb the Capitolium Hill, to increase the amount of water available for the fountains of Capitolium Square. On the small island, for the first time the local hospital (see Curious and Unusual page 5) was supplied by running water. Before the branch reached the top of the hill, several private houses of the nearby district were connected to the duct.

the other branch of the Acqua Paola
that reached Capitolium Square (red dot)

the fountain in the court of Palazzo Savelli
Among them was the residence of the Savelli family, near the Tiber bank, once a medieval fortress that was turned into a mansion in the 1500s. It was built over the remains of the ancient Theatre of Marcellus, used as a high platform. Following the opening of the new branch of the Acqua Paola, a fountain could be set in the mansion's court. It was likely removed during the restoration works carried out in the second half of the 1920s, when the theatre was freed from the many shops and smaller houses that surrounded its surviving parts, although the main body of the mansion is still in place, resting above the ancient remains.

A smaller wall fountain was also built in the Jewish ghetto (see Curious and Unusual page 6), just past the bridge that connects the Tiber Island to the eastern bank. It was very simple, with three small niches; the central one, decorated with Paul V's eagle, had a small trough-shaped basin below, while the pope's full coat of arms hung from the top part. Despite its size, for the Jewish community this fountain was very important, at it was the first source of running water available within the ghetto's boundary; in fact, the other fountain that two or three decades earlier Giacomo della Porta had built in piazza Giudia (see page 11) stood outside one of the gates of the enclosure. Also the ghetto's fountain went lost, due to the deep alterations that the district underwent by the end of the 19th century, when many old houses were taken down.
Palazzo Savelli (in yellow) and
the Jewish ghetto (in blue), in 1676

other pages in part III
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