From the early 1500s through the 1800s the number of small
fountains kept growing.
These facilities could be either public or semi-public; the former ones
were located on busy spots and were payed for by the municipality, the latter stood
by the many family palaces where the roman aristocracy dwelt. In fact, all fountains drew water from
the main aqueducts, which were public properties, administered by the municipality
for the benefit of the whole population. Any branch for private use, i.e. for mansions,
villas, gardens, cultivated fields, etc., had to be payed for. But upon request, or as a form of reward for good deeds,
the noble could be granted free amounts of water, on condition of building by their
dwelling a fountain for public use, and take care of its maintanance, at their own expenses.
What was left of the water could be then used by the owner for his own purposes.
Bernini's Fountain of the Bees
the three large bees
Therefore, the semi-public fountains were payed for by wealthy privates, who could often
afford hiring an artist, so to obtain a better result than a simple "trough": the new fountain
would have added to the richness of their palace, and enhanced the family's munificence
among the common people.
However, in time many of these fountains were moved from their original
site, as mentioned in page 1, sometimes more than once, due to frequent and sometimes blameworthy alterations
endured by the old buildings, either following changes of property or due to the growing
traffic (carriages and coaches, and then cars and buses), in the constant need of larger
A famous one is the Fontanella delle Api ("fountain of the bees", pictures above) on the spot where via Veneto meets piazza Barberini. Its renowned author, Gian Lorenzo Bernini,
accounts for the ingenious design of this huge white sea-shell.
Three bees alight by its base,
commemorating the crest of the Barberini, a powerful family to which pope Urban VIII
(Bernini's sponsor, and client of this work) belonged.
the fountain (arrow) once stood by this corner
original location of the shell (blue dot)
and where it stands now (red dot).
But the fountain we see today was rebuilt and repositioned
in modern times, around 1915. In fact, it originally stood on the corner with via Sistina,
(opposite end of the square, see the detail on the right), hanging from the
wall, as most other "troughs". Its basin had the shape of a second shell, which matched
the vertical one, as in an open clam.
Around the mid 1800s it was dismantled, and stored
in a deposit, where some parts went lost. Therefore what we see now is close to
Bernini's creation, yet not as a whole.
A curious fate was that of the Fontanella della Scrofa ("fountain of the sow").
It consisted of a plain nozzle and a tiny basin, not very different from the aforesaid Fontanella Borghese,
decorated with a simple ancient roman relief, featuring a sow.
the sow (left) separated from the small output (right)
Due to traffic reasons, in 1874 the fountain had to be moved
to the nearby corner, but since the street had already
been called via della Scrofa (sow street), in order to avoid renaming the place, the relief was left on the wall. It is still there, some 15 metres or
yards away from its output, with a plaque that remembers the fact.
detail of the sow
To move a small fountain for traffic purposes was a very common practice.
Most of Rome's old streets are narrow, and have no sidewalk. So when during the 19th century the number of coaches, carriages, carts,
considerably grew, many of these fountains, which slightly reduced the roadway,
created a problem despite their small size.
For semi-public ones the new position was usually chosen round the nearest corner, or
at the back of the building, so to maintain a connection with the owner's house and to
keep drawing water from the same source as before.
Above are two more examples of semi-public fountains moved from their original site. One
of them was recently fitted with a brass tap, to reduce the consumption of water
(see also page 3).
On one end of via Lata, almost a lane crossing Rome's high street
via del Corso, is the popular Fontanella del Facchino
("the porter's fountain"), despite the featured figure is really a water-carrier, holding
a cask. Originally set in the mid 1500s on the front of Palazzo de' Carolis, now also called
Palazzo del Banco di Roma, this fountain too was moved round the corner, to the side
of the building, where it is now.
The fountain, despite its bad state of preservation, reveals the hand of a skilled sculptor,
who somebody in the past, way too optimistically, had claimed to be Michelangelo! In fact,
the early owner of the adjacent building, Matteo Grifoni, personally knew the renowned
artist, who lived in Macel de' Corvi, only 200 metres (or yards) off this spot, but this
attribution has been now completely rejected. Instead it is possible that the florentine painter
Jacopo del Conte, who bought the building where the fountain was set, may have drawn the water-carrier
The fountain is also described in Curious and Unusual - page 2, as the Facchino used to be one of
Rome's popular "talking statues".
the water-carrier's fountain today
a 17th century engraving by G.B.Falda still shows
the Facchino on the front of the building (arrow)
Ripetta's fountain, presently dry
due to the works in progress
for the new Ara Pacis Museum
The Fontana della Botticella
("cask fountain") was probably inspired by the previous one.
Built in 1774, over two centuries later, it is located in lungotevere Ripetta,
facing the Tiber.
However, it is still uncertain whether its personage too features a water-carrier or an inn-keeper,
i.e. whether the small barrel carved at the bottom of the fountain would have contained water or wine.
In fact, every day hundreds of casks of wine reached Rome via the busy river port of Ripetta,
which up to the late 1800s stood on this same spot, by the river bank.
water-carrier or inn-keeper?
The Babuino Fountain, in via del
Babuino, is a further member of the "talking statues", together
with the aforesaid Facchino and the older Marforio (part I).
It was set here in the late 1500s, when secondary branches of the Aqua Virgo aqueduct
were created for the benefit of this expanding district. By their house,
the Grandi family had a semipublic fountain built in the traditional style, using a statue
of a reclining sylenus and a basin, both of roman age. The statue must have already been rather worn, since the
common people nicknamed it babuino ("baboon") because of its weird-looking face,
and after a while the whole street, originally called via Paulina, was renamed via del Babuino.
the Babuino Fountain today
old drawing of the 18th century solution
Around 1730 the house changed owner, and the alterations
that followed caused the fountain to be moved across the street, set in a niche
shaped as a false doorway of the building. Then, some 150 years later, the fountain was dismantled: the niche was turned into an
actual doorway, the basin was used for another trough located off the city walls (see below), while the popular
Babuino was placed in the courtyard of the building, as a statue.
Only in 1957 the municipality found a further rectangular basin that could suit the old
sylenus, who was finally given back his original role, almost on the same spot where his story started.
Being one of the talking statues partially accounts for the thousands of graffiti that
continuously surround the Babuino fountain.
The two following fountains are not exactly "small", and would certainly rank among the
full-sized ones, but since one of them stands side by side with a real trough, and the other
fountain has many analogies with the first one, they are decribed in this page.
About 1 km or 2/3 of a mile along the old Flaminian way,
off the northernmost city gate Porta del Popolo, is a crossing where two different fountains face each
other. At the bottom of the street between them, pope Julius III (1550-55) owned a large
villa, today's National Museum of Villa Giulia; the two fountains - the large one for
humans, the smaller trough for animals - were set here as a sort of welcome for the many
travellers and pilgrims who, travelling to Rome from the north, came in sight
of the pope's favourite mansion.
engraving by G.Vasi showing the site in the first half of the 18th century
Both fountains draw their water from the Aqua Virgo,
whose route towards the city passes nearby, running parallel to the Flaminian way.
Of the two, the fountain on the left is named after Julius III, and is usually included
among the full-sized fountains. It rests against a two-storey building, which up to the
mid 1500s had only one level.
Then architect Pirro Ligorio added a second level to the building; the fountain too was enlarged,
and somewhat altered to its present look. A large plaque replaced a smaller original one, and
a coat of arms was set by the top level. Nevertheless, the output remained rather small, and despite
the additional features its lower part is not really too different from a trough.
the output of the fountain of Julius III
the fountain of Julius III, today
A real trough, instead, is the one on the other side.
the original trough and the decorated front
As seen in old engravings, its output had the shape of a
seashell, and rested against a tall decorated front.
This one too was heavily altered on different occasions. In the 1800s, for mysterious
reasons, both the output and the basin were replaced by new ones; the basin was the same
one which earlier in time had supported the Babuino (see above). Then, in the 1930s,
an anonymous building incorporated the small fountain, causing the loss of its decorated
These changes considerably diminished the appeal of this spot, once very picturesque.
Luckily, the original trough too was preserved and, after some time, it was
given a new location about 100 metres or yards closer to the city gate.
(above) the new trough, on whose basin the Babuino
once rested, and (below) the original trough
Other "welcome fountains" existed on the opposite side of town, but only one of them is
the fountain of Clement XII
Some 3 Km. or 2 miles off Porta San Giovanni, along the via Tuscolana (another main road of
ancient roman origin), on the spot where a surviving stretch of the ancient Aqua Claudia aqueduct
crosses the one called Aqua Felix, stands a lonely though rather ornate fountain, that pope
Sixtus V (1585-90) had built as a sort of refreshing break for travellers
who moved towards Rome along this busy southern-eastern approach. Although nowadays this
spot is located in one of the suburbs with the highest population density, in those days
it was open countryside, barely in sight of the city walls. This fountain, that used to be
known also as Fontana Bella ("the pretty fountain"), was altered and enlarged to its
present shape by pope Clement XII in 1723; therefore, ever since it has been known as
"the fountain of Clement XII". Obviously, resting against the Aqua Felix, it pours water
from the same aqueduct. It is also mentioned in Aqueducts - part III,
Although heavily altered, the "pretty fountain" is the only surviving
of the three which Sixtus V had made for the spots where the Aqua Felix he had sponsored
crossed main roads (the other two stood along via Casilina and via Tiburtina).
A few fountains were lucky enough to outlive the building they
originally hung from, after the latter was demolished.
fountain from the former Villa Ludovisi
The output of the left, along the northern stretch of the ancient
Aurelian Walls, was built with fragments
coming from the vast villa once belonged to the Ludovisi family (as testified by the writing
FONS LUDOVISIA); the estate covered a very large area.
When Villa Ludovisi was acquired by Rome's municipality, in the 19th century, the estate
was used for building a new district, which was named after the family,
Ludovisi (Rione XVI, see its location in The 22 Rioni).
However, almost nothing of the villa is now left. The fountain was one of the very few
the fountain in S.Alessio's garden
In a similar way, in a garden by the church of S.Alessio on the
Aventine Hill, a small basin supported by a bird on a background of rocks comes from a
building demolished during the 1930s, as stated by a tiny inscription.
Other small fountains, instead, were not as lucky as the ones described so far.
A few were left without water after being moved from their original site. Some lost it
temporarily, as the one with a lion's head and a long basin, dated 1717, once in front of
the Temple of Vesta, about 150 metres or yards off its present site by the Tiber's
bank, below the Aventine Hill. Others lost it permanently, as the small
Fontanina del Putto ("fountain of the child"), an elegant but
rather worn mid 16th century niche in via Giulia, that features a child holding two
no water nor basin
The latter not only lost its water, but its basin too. A pity,
considering that a renowned artist, Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane, is credited for this work.
the long basin, now completely dry
A few more also disappeared for a
completely opposite reason, that is to be replaced by a much larger fountain. A clear example
is piazza Navona's Fountain of the Rivers, described in part III: in the mid 17th century,
one of Bernini's most famous masterpieces took the place of a simple drinking-trough that stood in the middle
of the square (see picture on the right).
We shall now step further in time, and see what the small fountains made in
the late 19th and 20th centuries look like.
view of piazza Navona in the early 17th century; in the center
of the square is a simple "trough" with some horses drinking