~ Roman Monographs ~

· part III ·
Main Fountains


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The 1800s represented one of the city's most troubled ages, due to the important historical events that took place throughout the century, and ended with the proclamation of Rome as the capital city of the newborn Italian country.
Instead, the century had started with the city's occupation by Napoleon's troops: up to 1815 Rome remained under the jurisdiction of the French soldiers. No major works, including the making of fountains, were carried out during these years, until Napoleon's death.

The first new fountains of the century were replacements of old ones: in 1816, an ancient basin that lay almost abandoned by the cattle market, was taken to Quirinal Square, in place of a late 16th century fountain by Giacomo Della Porta (see page 7 for details).
Only a few years later (1823) Giuseppe Valadier refurbished piazza del Popolo in neoclassical style, and removed another small fountain built by Della Porta, whose place was taken by four water-spouting lions in Egyptian fashion, decorating the corners of a scenographic pedestal for the Flaminian obelisk that stands in the middle of the composition. (for further details and pictures refer to page 2).
piazza del Popolo
(↑ above) two lions from the fountain in piazza del Popolo;
the wall fountain on the eastern side of piazza del Popolo (right →)
piazza del Popolo

In the same piazza del Popolo, the architect added two twin fountains, that mark the centre of two long curved walls, decorated with further statues of sphinxes, which enclose the square along its western and southern sides. Both fountains consist of a semicircular basin shaped as a shell, from where the water trickles down into another much larger basin at ground level. Over each of the two fountains, a huge marble group rests above the wall. The subjects of these allegories are god Neptune with two Tritons on the western side of the square and, on the opposite side, a standing female figure of goddess Rome with two reclining male figures representing the city's rivers, the Tiber and the Aniene.

Italy was steadily marching towards its unfication, and the governors who ruled over the many occupied lands and dependecies into which the country was divided were being gradually overthrown.
piazza del Popolo
the large group with Neptune (western side of the square)

viale Gabriele D'Annunzio
statues along the ramp that
climbs to the Pincio Hill
The condition of the same Papal State became precarious, especially when Pius IX gave a turn of the screw to his conservative policy, triggering social unrest. This led to an uprising, that caused the pope to flee, shortly before the temporary proclamation of the Roman Republic (1849); but its short life ended when Pius IX called for help on France, under whose command the Zouaves, a corpse of well-equipped mercenary soldiers from many countries, engaged a blood-shedding battle on the Janiculum hill, and restored the papal authority.
In 1860 the unification of Italy was officially declared. Only the anachronistic Papal State, now very small after having lost most of its territories in northern and central Italy, but still supported by its foreign allies, managed to offer resistance for ten more years. In the end, after several battles and a long-lasting siege set by the Italian army, the soldiers finally succeeded in capturing Rome, and the pope's absolute monarchy came to an end.
Pius IX (1846-78)

By the light of these dramatic events, fountain-making was certainly not a priority in the agenda of Rome's administrators. The battle fought on the Janiculum in 1849 had even damaged the 17th century Castilian Fountain (described at the end of page 12), so severely that shortly afterwards it was removed. Yet, during the remaining ten years of reign of Pius IX, the last 'pope king', no less than three more new fountains were built in Rome.

Some of the 19th century fountains have already been dealt with in other parts of the website; follow the links in the text to reach the relevant page, with a more detailed description and/or historical notes.


In the early 1860s the pope decreed the making of a new large building for Rome's tobacco factory.
piazza Mastai
the Renaissance-looking fountain in piazza Mastai
The site chosen was Trastevere, a district that in those days was still entirely made of small lanes and old houses, inhabited by the working class. Architect Andrea Busiri Vici, who took care of the alterations needed in order to make enough room for the factory, was also asked to design a fountain, an embellishment for the square in front of the building. piazza Mastai
Probably busy with the first part of his commission, the architect drew the fountain almost copying the guidelines that three centuries earlier Giacomo Della Porta had used for most of his works: in fact, its shape is more typical of a Renaissance creation, rather than a 19th century one.
piazza Mastai
An octagonal basin with straight sides rests above a short flight of three steps, bearing the coat of arms of Pius IX and the work's finishing date: 1865. Centrally, a baluster shaped as four fish with entwined tails supports a second round basin, from where the water is spouted into the larger one below by four small lion heads.
The top part of the baluster consists of four putti holding over their heads the third final element; the latter is the only part that does not recall Della Porta's style, but Carlo Maderno's own, as it is convex and covered with a scaly texture, that makes the water run along its surface and drip down, almost a small replica of the one belonging to the twin fountains in St.Peter's Square (see page 13).
piazza Mastai
coat of arms of Pius IX (Mastai Ferretti)

Busiri Vici's fountain may be criticized for its lack of originality; nevertheless, its design is elegant and harmonic. It also shows how much influence Della Porta kept exerting on Rome's architecture, in particular on fountain-making, despite two centuries and a half had already elapsed since his death, and despite the fantastic creations of the Baroque age had deeply changed the city, during the same 250 years.


This large creation is is the display fountain of the Acqua Pia-Marcia aqueduct.
Originally, both its shape and its position were not the same as the present ones. Although it took forty-two years until the fountain was declared finished, its complicated story began when Pius IX first opened it, in September 1870, only ten days before Rome was taken. Therefore, it is more correct to list it as a 19th century work.
The previous aqueduct had been opened about 250 years earlier (see page 12).

the Fountain of the Naiads, one of Rome's largest →
piazza della Repubblica

During the last decade of his reign, Pius IX sponsored the making of a further one, that reached Rome from the east, and supplied several districts in the northern part of the city.

It drew water from the same springs of the ancient Aqua Marcia (opened in 144 BC, and damaged by the Goths in the 6th century AD). Not much of the ancient structures were left, though, and the new aqueduct had to be largely rebuilt. In the end, it was named Acqua Pia-Marcia in honour of Pius IX.
reconstruction of the early display fountain
of the Acqua Pia-Marcia, as seen in its original
location in a vintage photograph of c.1870

piazza della Repubblica
one of Rutelli's voluptuous naiads
Its display fountain was located slightly south of the present one, and consisted of a circular pool surrounded by rocks, with a large number of nozzles all around; the centre of the ring was marked by five vertical jets of water, one of which much taller than the others.
Only a few years later, under Italian administration, the district was completely refurbished; also the fountain was removed, and rebuilt on the spot where it now stands. The local authorities decided to improve its look. But the first attempt, consisting of four crouching lions placed where today are the four Naiads, was not very successful.

Rome's municipality hired sculptor Mario Rutelli, who carved four bewitching naked female figures; when they were set into place, though, they caused a public scandal, as described in Curious and Unusual page 9.
piazza della Repubblica
the central group

Also the central group, by the same sculptor, was disliked by the public, up to the point that it was removed, and Rutelli replaced it with the present male figure clasping a dolphin. In 1912, the fountain was finally complete.
The structure of the fountain is more complicated than what it looks like from an ordinary standpoint, because architect Alessandro Guerrieri who drew it, placed the various elements too high above the ground level to be fully visible from below, also due to their large size (obviously, this was a mistake in his project!).
The central group, featuring the man and the dolphin, rests in the middle of the uppermost and smallest of three round basins, which is surrounded by two progressively larger and lower ones.
By the rim of the third basin is a ring of nozzles, as in the old fountain, oriented towards the centre, and four individual outlets, shaped as fish and placed slightly more inside, that spout a stronger jet of water in the opposite direction. The set of three basins rests on a large octagonal pedestal; four of its eight sides end with a further semicircular basin, where a Naiad stands, soaked by the water coming from the aforesaid fish. Finally, a very large and low round basin, the last element, collects the water coming from the fountain's many outlets. piazza della Repubblica

piazza Cairoli
the fountain, below San Carlo ai Catinari

In a square where the boundaries of three districts meet, namely Regola, Sant'Eustachio and Sant'Angelo, next to the church of San Carlo ai Catinari, known for its ornate dome, is a a small public garden. The square and some of the surrounding streets were refurbished soon after the fall of the Papal State, and wider streets were opened through the old neighborhoods.
At one end of the garden stands a fountain. Its shape is still clearly based on a Renaissance pattern, although its decorations are very scanty, and certainly cannot compare to a 16th century creation.
Two basins of different size rest one above the other, supported by two individual balusters (the upper one is round and thin, the lower one is rather stout, with an octagonal section). Once bronze dolphins decorated the stout baluster, but in time they went lost. The last element is the third basin at the bottom, with four long sides and four short ones, in alternate order.

On one corner of the bottom basin, the obscure author carved his own name, Ed. Andrè, probably fearing that it would have been soon forgotten.

The precise date when the fountain was unveiled is unknown, but since the aforesaid refurbishment works were carried out during the 1870s, it is very likely that the fountain too was built during the same period.

piazza Navona
the central group, one of the horses and one of the grotesque faces

Started in the late 1500s, and initially referred to as Fountain of the Coppersmiths, this unfinished work by the early fountain-maker Giacomo Della Porta lay for three centuries, almost oblivioned, at the northern end of piazza Navona, see page 3 for more pictures and for full historical details. It originally consisted of a bare basin, that was later on surrounded by a pool, both similar in shape to those of the Fountain of the Moor (located at the opposite end of the same square), but without statues, nor any other decoration.
In 1873 Rome's administrators decided that time had come to finish it. The works took five years. In 1878 the new groups were unveiled, and the fountain was given its present name after the central figure of Neptune fighting an octopus, carved by Antonio Della Bitta. The remaining groups that decorate the central basin (horses, putti, naiads, grotesque faces, in alternate order) are by Gregorio Zappalą.


The last chapter of the long story of this important fountain, told in the page about the late Middle Ages and in the one about Gianlorenzo Bernini, was written in 1873.
Up to this date, the last alteration had been conducted by Carlo Fontana, who in 1692 had removed the old papal coats of arms, and replaced the four double sea shells by Bernini with others of different shape; the outer shell no longer collected water, but stood almost vertically, framing a large coat of arms of the pope who had sponsored the works, Innocent XII Pignatelli.
Two years later, the same pontiff had the fountain featured on the back of a golden quadruple, the coin of the Papal State with the highest value, issued quite rarely (see the Miscellaneous section).

← coat of arms of Innocent XII Pignatelli

golden quadruple of 1694, featuring the fountain
Almost two centuries had elapsed, and Rome had just been declared the new capital of the Kingdom of Italy, when the city council decided that the fountain was deteriorated so badly that the decision was taken to entirely rebuilt it, yet preserving its original shape. So a new round basin with wolf heads was carved, as well as a new octagonal outer basin, and a new series of double sea shells; this time, though, not the Pignatelli coat of arms was framed by the shells, but the city's own, with the four letters S.P.Q.R.. The fountain was then assembled on a higher platform than the 17th century one, with seven steps.
On the eight sides of the outer basin hang the inscriptions (either originals, or copies) that each pope had carved on the occasion of the previous restoration works; the complex story of the fountain could be reconstructed also thanks to these inscriptions, which enable to date precisely each work. The last one mentioned was conducted in 1930, without any further alteration.

other pages in part III

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