The First Water Features

Towns and villages relied on working water fountains to channel water for cooking, bathing, and cleaning up from nearby sources like ponds, streams, or springs. The force of gravity was the power supply of water fountains up until the conclusion of the 19th century, using the potent power of water traveling downhill from a spring or creek to force the water through valves or other outlets. Inspirational and impressive, large water fountains have been crafted as memorials in nearly all civilizations. a-370__68998.jpg If you saw the first fountains, you probably would not recognize them as fountains. A stone basin, crafted from rock, was the 1st fountain, utilized for containing water for drinking and religious purposes. Rock basins are believed to have been first used around 2,000 BC. Early fountains put to use in ancient civilizations relied on gravity to manipulate the circulation of water through the fountain. Situated near reservoirs or springs, the functional public water fountains supplied the local population with fresh drinking water. The people of Rome began constructing elaborate fountains in 6 BC, most of which were metallic or natural stone masks of wildlife and mythological heroes. A well-engineered system of reservoirs and aqueducts kept Rome's public water fountains supplied with fresh water.

The Marvelous Santa Maria in Cosmedin Water Fountain in Rome

Archaeologists and restorers alike have stumbled upon a treasure trove of pagan and Christian artifacts on the grounds of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome. Found in the portico of the nearby basilica one can see the acclaimed marble sculpture known as the Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth). When the Santa Maria in Cosmedin water fountain was constructed in 1719, it was off the beaten track and generally unknown as a result. For the most part, visitors stayed away from the area because it was a sad and desolate part of the city. It was then that the Italian architect Carlo Bizzaccheri was instructed by Pope Clement XI to build a water fountain in the square outside the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in an effort to make the area more popular. The job of laying down the church’s first stones began on August 17, 1717. The consecration of the first rock to be placed in the foundation was followed by medals being thrown in bearing the images of the Blessed Virgin, for whom the church is named, and St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of water.

Michelangelo’s Roman Water Fountains

During the 16th century two renown Florentine artists by the names of Michelangelo and Ammannati designed the first wall fountains in Rome. In 1536 Michelangelo’s first fountain in the Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome, part of the façade of the Palazzo Senatorio, was unveiled. Constructed some years later, a conduit from the Aqua Felice was added which carried water into the Capitol permitting a greater water display. Expecting this, Michelangelo had added a more substantial basin styled on the late Cinquecento.

Was the famed artist the originator of the wall fountain? Italy’s fountains truly show the effect his designs had on the styles seen there. The Fountain of the River Gods at the Villa Lante, Bagnaia 1, and the Fountain of the Mugnone arranged between flights of stairs on the main axis of the Villa Pratolino are further models of this type of structure.

It seemed to be Michelangelo’s predestination to combine classic Roman characteristics into his fountains instead of using his own remarkable talents to design original pieces. Julius III (1550-1555) decided to have a fountain constructed at the top of the Belvedere in the Vatican and commissioned the Florentine genius to design a special wall fountain. A marble figure of Moses striking a rock streaming water was to be built as decoration for the fountain. Rather than building the Moses sculpture, which would take too much time to complete, an antique figure of Cleopatra was used in its place, however. An ancient figure was thought to be quicker to put up over the fountain than the creation of a completely new statue by the famed artist.


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The Original Water Features
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Roman Water Fountains: Michelangelo’s Chef d'Oeuvre
Michelangelo’s unique talent was put aside because he was forced to design fountains uniting classical elements and a Roman style. The Florentine maestro was... read more
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