Rome Travel Guide

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Friday, June 15, 2012

Water, Water, Everywhere? Rome's "Dry" Fountains

RST is pleased to welcome Romaphile Joan Schmelzle as guest blogger for this report on some of Rome's most curious fountains--those that don't have any water.  Joan is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and taught English in the region for many years.  She is currently active in the Center for Learning in Retirement in Rockford, Illinois.  In November, she'll experience the wonders of Rome not for the 2nd time, but the 13th. 

Having traveled to Rome several times over the last 50 years, I knew that Rome was a city of fountains and a city proud of its fountains and its wonderful water supply.  What I wasn’t ready for on my last trip was the many dry fountains that I ran into during my “fountain hunt.” 

Sad Eagle
 I found these lifeless fountains in many different parts of the city, and often there didn’t seem to be much reason for them.  I was especially surprised to see several in the Vatican Gardens during my tour.  I did see several men working in one or two different areas, but none on the fountains.  Of course, all the big show fountains were burbling away, but a couple were especially noticeable.  First was a somewhat sad looking eagle.  Judging from what looked like spouts on the top, water should have been pouring over him.   

Still thirsty

Another was a sea creature that seemed to be trying for a drink from a shell.  I fear he stayed thirsty.

Waterless Borghese Rocks
 Wandering through the Villa Borghese, I found a small area of rocks that  appeared to have once been swept by a wide flow of water and now seemed lifeless without it.   

Headless satyr (center)
I believe the saddest dry fountain in the Villa was the Fountain of the Satyrs, also called by the author H. V. Morton [see link to Morton's fountain book at the end of this post] the Fountain of Joy.  And I’m sure it once was a joyful sight.  But when I saw not only was it dry, but the smallest satyr, who was being bounced on the extended arms of the other two, was headless. This is one I would like to see being joyful again when I return to Rome.

A Dry Neptune
Across from the Pincio Hill end of Villa Borghese is one of the two huge fountains placed there by Valadier, who designed the Piazza del Popolo as we now see it.  Unfortunately, a huge statue of Neptune had no water for him to rule over.  


In another lively area of Rome, Monti, there is a fountain that I have seen running very happily with water and surrounded by people out enjoying their neighborhood.  On this trip, the fountain was dry, but it was decorated with several colorful balloons.  It seemed like the neighborhood wanted to add some life to its gathering place.

Dry wrestling
In the large park-like Piazza Vittorio, I found what at first looked like a series of twisted arms and legs but finally seemed to be at least two men wrestling with a large sea creature.

Nearby was what I took to be a tall ruin of a building, but on more research was found to be the ruins of a fountain that was once part of the ancient Trophies of Marius.

Famous old Marforio, one of Rome’s talking statues, sits alone and dry in the entry of the Palazzo Nuovo on the Capitoline Hill.  He and his “friends” often exchanged criticisms of the government, the church, or whatever person or group that they felt deserved it. 

 Also dry this trip was Babuino, one of Marforio’s “friends,” after whom Via Babuino was named.   On my next trip I expect to see him with his trough filled; he was being restored last I saw him.

 The garden of Palazzo Barberini, one of Rome’s top galleries, has been restored.  However, the water had not yet been sent to its fountains.  A restored Apollo with his lyre waited at the top of the hill for the water to make music for him.  Elsewhere in the garden were some rocks that looked like they should be fountains and which had water in the basins around them, but it looked more like rain water, and nothing was coming out of the spouts.

Pig and a Plaque
I conclude with one of my favorites—technically, no longer a fountain.  A small plaque with a pig atop tells the story.  With a little help from my Italian dictionary, it says: “On this site was placed the fountain which was in the way of the corner of Via dei Portughesi in the year 1874.”  I know that I won’t find water if I return to this little pig, but I certainly hope that some of my other dry finds will again be lively with good Roman water.

 A presto, Roma
Joan Schmelzle

PS from Dianne - Joan cites one of our favorite books - Morton's "Fountains of Rome."  See the end of our earlier post on the "fontanone" for info on the book; if you're a Romaphhile - get it.

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