Thursday, July 5, 2012

Today's photos:


1.     The twin lion fountains adorn the two sides at the bottom of Michelangelo's Cordonata, the elegant ramp leading up to the Capitoline hill.

2.     Here's the lion on the left side . . .

3.     . . . and here's his twin on the right side.

4.     Pius IV dei Medici (1559-1565) donated the lions to the city.

5.     The lion fountains are fed by the waters of the sixteenth century Acquedotto Felice which ends here at the so-called Moses fountain.

6.     There are other monumental fountains which mark the end of an aqueduct, such as this one, the Acqua Paola fountain (fontanone) on the Janiculum hill.




We have to speak of this topic in the plural (fountains) because there are two of them, and they are identical twins.  These delightful little fountains are found at the foot of the Cordonata, the graceful stairway which leads up to the Piazza del Campidoglio and which was designed by Michelangelo beginning in 1546. Hundreds of people walk by or between these fountains every day, but few notice them and even fewer know their story.


The two majestic-looking lions, one on either side of the Cordonata, are Egyptian in origin, made of black granite veined in red, even though the red is by now barely visible.  They date back to the third century B.C. and were used in Roman times to decorate a temple of the Egyptian goddess Isis which existed near the Pantheon.


A curiosity


I have found that many people are surprised to learn that temples to Egyptian and other foreign gods and goddesses existed in ancient Rome.  The fact is that the Romans were very tolerant of religions different from their own.  As long as followers  of foreign gods also worshipped the Roman deities they were welcome.  This obviously created a problem for the Christians who refused to worship the pagan gods and insisted that their deity was the one, true God.  This is what brought them into conflict with the Romans,  and this is what, in part, led to the persecution of the Christians by the Romans.


In 1562 the twin lions were donated by Pius IV dei Medici (1559-1565) to the people of Rome with the specific intention that they be used to decorate Michelangelo's Cordonata. (See Rome: Sights and Insights, Chapter 16, Porta Pia, for an amusing anecdote about Pius IV).  It was only in 1587 that the lions were transformed into fountains by Giacomo Della Porta. Michelangelo saw the lions (he had a house just a few yards away from them), but neither he nor Pius  lived to see them converted into fountains, as the artist  died in 1564 and the Pope in 1565.


A curiosity


The water which feeds these two little fountains is brought into the city by an aqueduct begun in 1583 by Gregory XIII Ugo Boncompagni (1572-1585) and completed in 1587 by his successor, Sixtus V Felice Peretti (1585-1590). As usually happens, the work takes the name of the pope who completes it, not the one who begins it. This is probably a good thing in this case since the name Aquedotto Felice has a better sound to it than Aquedotto Ugo!


 This aqueduct, over 400 years old, continues to supply water to many areas of Rome's historic center.  It is one of many aqueducts which were either built by the Romans and maintained by the popes, or built by the popes themselves, as this one was.  A fountain recalling the building of this aqueduct was set up by Sixtus V.  It was common practice for monumental fountains to be built where the aqueducts ended.  Both the Trevi Fountain and the Acqua Paola on the Janiculum hill are examples. (For the story of the Acqua Paola and the Trevi Fountain, see The Sights of Rome, Chapters 1 and 22).


Each of the two lion fountains pours out water from a small tap or spout inserted into the mouth of the lion.  The water then drops into a basin of travertine stone.  In 1880 the fountains were removed, presumably to protect them from the elements, and substituted with marble copies.  However, the originals were returned in 1956 and have been spouting their water ever since.  Apparently after 76 years it was decided that the Egyptian granite was capable of surviving the Roman climate.  It remains to be seen how long they will survive the pollution in the air caused by the heavy automobile and bus traffic which passes just a few feet away from them.


A curiosity


In the early years of the fountains, on certain ceremonial occasions, such as the "taking possession" of the Basilica of St. John Lateran by a newly elected pope, the fountains were made to gush with wine instead of water, red on one side and white on the other.  The people were allowed to come with their containers and fill them up with wine, compliments of the pope!  You can imagine the pushing and shoving of the crowd at the fountains on those days!  The last recorded instance of this custom was at the election to the papacy of Clement X Altieri (1670-1676).


We actually have a diary entry of a certain Fulvio Servanzio which recalls the last celebration of this unique custom.  The diary, written in Latin, states:


Sub clivo capitolino duo leones in fontes erecti, aquarum vice pretiosum vinum emittebant ad populi commodum et saturitatem. 


At the foot of the Capitoline hill two lions, erected as fountains, were pouring out expensive wine in place of water for the convenience and the satisfaction of the people.


(For more about small neighborhood fountains in Rome, see Rome: Sights and Insights, Chapter 17, Rioni e Fontanelle).


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