~ Roman Monographs ~

ˇ part III ˇ
Main Fountains


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from 1900 to 1930

By the turn of year 1900, the many changes that thirty years before had been entailed in Rome by becoming the capital city, were still largely in progress. During the first decade of the century, before Italy entered WW I, the central districts were heavily refurbished. In some cases, the changes were carried out without caring much about what was being taken down.
Many old houses were demolished, in order to build thoroughfares, wide enough to let the city's growing traffic flow more easily, and new huge buildings that would have housed ministeries and other public offices, whose so-called 'eclectic' style sought inspiration from the past, blending the classic age with Renaissance, Baroque with Art Nouveau, and so on, often yielding questionable mixtures.
Fountains were sometimes incorporated in these building, as ornamental elements. The final result was usually very imposing, yet not always beautiful from an artistic point of view: the size and even the colour (mainly white!) of the new buildings often clashed with the environment, whose main shades range from yellow-tan to reddish-brown, otherwise in other cases they obstructed the view over ancient remains, not to mention the aforesaid hybrid styles and techniques, which in some cases bordered on bad taste.
piazza Venezia
(↑ above) one of the fountains by the memorial of king Victor Emanuel II
(↓ below) the fountains of the front (left) and the back (right) of the old Law Court

piazza dei Tribunali piazza Cavour

Another important issue is that by the 20th century, most private houses were finally reached by running water; this trend had already started during the previous century, but it was not until the 1900s that water pipes fitted with a tap were to be found in an average middle- to low-class house. People no longer were in need of going once or twice a day to the nearest fountain carrying bottles, buckets, and demijohns to fill for their daily purposes. Therefore, from this age onwards fountains started losing their role of public facility, turning into a mainly decorative feature for streets, squares, etc.

The two best examples of the slightly megalomaniac architecture previously mentioned, namely the memorial monument of king Victor Emanuel II (finished in 1911) and the old Law Court (finished in 1910), both feature wall fountains at the bottom of a staircase. Their overall shape is vaguely reminiscent of the 16th century fountain in Capitolium Square (page 8), especially the two that flank the memorial, with a huge reclining allegory resting above their basin (the Thyrrenian Sea on the right, and the Adriatic Sea on the left). But in both cases, the overwhelming bulk of the buildings at their back diminish the visual impact of these fountains, despite their considerable size; furthermore, being both white, as the rest of the context they belong to, causes an almost mimetic effect that makes them look even less outstanding than they really are.

the fountains are mainly located in the central and northern
districts of old Rome, already densely inhabited or developing
during the 16th and 17th centuries, when fountain-making flourished;
the southern and eastern districts, instead, had been abandoned during
the Middle Ages, and fully developed again only in the late 1800s

viale Trastevere Another example of fountain used as an additional decoration can be seen by the monument that Trastevere district dedicated to Rome's most popular dialect poet, Giuseppe Gioachino Belli. Built in 1913 with the money raised thanks to spontaneous donations by the local inhabitants, the monument was decorated on both sides with an ornate head spouting a jet of water into a semicircular basin. Due to its size, though, this fountain is probably more worthy of being listed in part II.

← one of the two small fountains by Giuseppe Gioachino Belli's monument (1913)

Some fountains were also built during the years that followed the two World Wars, especially in the new districts that gradually rose around the city's historical nucleus. The map on the left shows the location of most ones described so far; the fountains built during the 20th century are shown in blue. For a reference list of their names, click on the picture: a resizable and scrollable window will open in the centre of the page.


On the north-western boundary of Villa Borghese, Rome's largest public park, two twin fountains decorate a staircase that leads towards the National Gallery of Modern Art, standing on the opposite side of the road. Both the fountains and the building that houses the gallery are works by architect Cesare Bazzani, dated 1911.
Each of the two fountains consists of a round basin, on whose rim stand eight tortoises, and a tall baluster decorated with flowers and fruit, that supports a plain upper basin. The latter element contains the only outlet of the fountain.
scalea Bruno Zevi
fontane gemelle davanti alla Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna  (1911)

piazza del Viminale
the fountain in piazza del Viminale

One of the last huge buildings was the one named after the Viminal hill (where it stands), finished in 1919, that became the see of the Ministry of Domestic Affairs. Less bulky and more elegant in shape than others built during the same age, its design mimics the Renaissance style of the 1500s. Since it stands at a higher level than the nearby street, its entrance is reached by a central flight of steps, and by two simmetrical ramps, one on each side, added ten years later.
The empty space between the ramps was arranged as a small square, with a marble seat along the wall, decorated street lamps, and a central fountain.

A rectangular basin, shaped as a tub (as the carved handles suggest) but with very low edges, is filled by two round outlets. It rests above a prism whose sides are decorated with reliefs: three hills (the device of Monti district), Rome's she-wolf and, at the back, a crown topped by a tower (one of Italy's devices).
From the upper element, the water keeps spilling into a small rectangular pool, or ground basin, that runs all around the base of the prism, about 50 cm below the street level.
piazza del Viminale
detail of the she-wolf


Between 1921 and 1926, architect Gino Coppedé designed and built in Trieste district (originally called Savoia, up to 1946) a number of very peculiar buildings, whose style is a curious mixture of medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and modern architecture. The main ones have special names such as the Villa of Fairies, the Palace of the Spider, etc. All together, they form a small but rather exclusive neighborhood known as the Coppedé District; its heart is piazza Mincio, where the Fountain of the Frogs stands. Also the fountain, in a rather ornate Baroque style, was designed by the same architect Coppedé.
piazza Mincio
the Fountain of the Frogs

piazza Mincio
the basin with the eight frogs
It is an elaborate creation, compared to others of the same century, and considering its small size and low height. It consists of a ground circular basin, with a quadrilobate pedestal in the centre; on each of its four corners, two water-spouting figures stretch their arms, supporting a small basin shaped as a shell; between them, at their feet, is a second basin, similar in shape but less ornate than the upper one, in which a large frog spouts a double jet of water.
The aforesaid groups surround a short stout baluster, on which rests the uppermost basin, round in shape, filled by a central outlet and by eight more frogs that sit on its edge, at regular intervals.
Due to a reduced supply of water, the upper half of the fountain is now dry.

piazza Mincio piazza Mincio
one of the groups below, and the detail of its frog


Prati was the last (22nd) district to be included among the historical ones, i.e. the Rioni (see the relevant page), although it was built only as of 1872.
Rome had been declared capital city of Italy only two years earlier, but crowds of immigrants from other parts of the country were already flocking to the new metropolis, seeking for jobs and for a better life, particularly from the lands that had belonged to the Papal State.
Prati (literally "fields"), despite being so close to the Vatican, had always been a rural area, covered with vineyards and other cultivated grounds; but due to the sudden increase of Rome's population, it was rapidly urbanized, and during the following decades it kept growing into a large modern district, whose inhabitants mostly belonged to the high-middle class.
piazza dei Quiriti

piazza dei Quiriti Around 1924 the municipal administration decided to decorate with a fountain one of Prati's squares, piazza dei Quiriti. The work was designed by Attilio Selva, a sculptor who in those years was specializing in large compositions, such as monuments and memorials. In fact, the fountain is fairly large, although it stands in a very small garden, in the middle of the square.

At the top, a pine-cone spouts a jet of water that falls down into a quadrifoliate basin; each of its four lobes is supported by a large statue in the shape of a naked female figure, or caryatid, sitting on a round platform just above the fountain's central element. The latter looks like a further basin, but its upper surface is convex, so that the water, dripping from above the figures, directly slides down into the real lower basin, at the bottom.
The stout base supporting the whole structure is decorated with a leaf motif, and with a series of mini-basins hanging all around its perimeter.

← one of the four naked figures

Just like the naiads of piazza Esedra (see Curious and Unusual, page 9), also the four caryatids of piazza dei Quiriti caused some sensation among the local inhabitants, due to their nudity; but the echoes of the scandal soon subsided, also because the Fascist regime that only a few years earlier had seized the power, exalted the display of bodies with a muscular build, in art as well as in real life: very soon, several other naked statues (mainly male, though) would have decorated public buildings, stadiums, etc.

the mini-basins around the base →
piazza dei Quiriti


This is actually a middle-sized fountain, built in the 1920s, located on one side of piazzale dei Partigiani, the vast plaza in front of the Ostiense railway station. It consists of a simple prysm, whose front has in its top part a large relief featuring two sea horses (in their mythological version, i.e. with wings and a fish-like rear part of the body), whose scaly tails entwine.
The central part is crossed by a long slit acting as the outlet of the water, which should gather in a low rectangular basin, of very simple shape, whose inside is lined with pale blue tiles. It should, because the fountain has been left dry for several years.

Even worse was the fate of another much larger fountain, dating back to the late 1950s, which stood proudly in the centre of the square; it had a tall vertical jet of water, surrounded by a ring of lower spurts pointing toward the centre. Then, in 1989, the works for the making of a large underground parking lot caused the fountain to disappear rather abruptly.


Part II page 4 describes how between 1926 and 1927 Pietro Lombardi created a number of small fountains for Rome's historical districts, each one representing typical local features.
The young architect was chosen for this project because only a few months earlier he had finished building a larger fountain for Testaccio district, whose design was inspired by the curious origin of the artificial hill after which the whole district is named.
piazza dell'Emporio As of the early I century BC, on this site once stood the horrea, a vast complex of deposits, where the large provisions of wine and oil that reached Rome via the nearby river Tiber were stored. For years and years, the fragments of broken amphors - the ones that contained oil were broken on purpose after being emptied, as they could be legally used only once - were neatly piled up in the area at the back of the deposit, until they slowly grew into a real hill, with a circumference of 850 metres (or yards), and a hight of 35 metres. Since the late Middle Ages, the hill is known as Testaccio, after the same fragments (testae in Latin) it is mainly made of.

← the Fountain of the Amphors, now in piazza dell'Emporio and partly dry

When in 1921 Ripa district was split, its southern part was officially named Testaccio, and the amphor was chosen as a symbol for its coat of arms.
The composition that architect Lombardi drew for piazza piazza Testaccio (the heart of the district, in those days called piazza Mastro Giorgio) consists of a group of amphors resting on a base; from here, the water gathers into four small rectangular basins below, that stretch out on each side, forming the pattern of a cross. At the central end of each basin hangs a ram's head and Rome's coat of arms, while at the opposite end, looking outwards, is an amphor in relief, pouring water from a simple nozzle.
In each of the corners formed by the arms of the cross is a further outlet with a tiny basin, while the remaining space is a plain platform, at the top of seven circular steps that run all around the fountain.
piazza dell'Emporio piazza dell'Emporio
details of the amphors of the upper group, and of Rome's coat of arms

In 1935, due to a land subsidence, the fountain was moved to its present location, in piazza dell'Emporio, facing Sublicio Bridge. Ever since, the centre of piazza Testaccio has been occupied by an open-air market, until 2012, when the square was cleared of all the stalls. Presently (September 2014), the fountain is being disassembled, and it has been scheduled that it will be back again on the original spot by the end of the year.

one of the four small outlets by the base
An interesting feature of this fountain is that it combined for the first time a large and merely ornamental group (i.e. the amphors at the top) with small outlets below, which the public can drink from. Up to this moment, main fountains and drinking troughs, or their modern derivations (see part II), had been kept separate; in some cases they had been built one next to the other, but never as one single structure.
Only a few years later, also the fountain of piazza Mazzini (described in the next page) adopted the new dual decorative-functional scheme.
Maybe this synthesis of esthetics and utility represents a metaphor of how the whole Italian society was changing: the sharp contrast between the rich noble and the working class was being gradually replaced by a wealthy middle class, whose needs (houses, vehicles, clothes, etc.) tried to combine an elegant design with practical use.

In recent times, the Fountain of the Amphors has suffered from a considerable reduction of its original water supply. Now only the small outlets are working, rather weakly too, while the central group and the basins are completely dry.

other pages in part III

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