The Salone Water (or Aqua Virgo) and the fountains that had been built so far represented a great improvement for the city, but already in the late years of his reign pope Gregory XIII thought of
restoring a second aqueduct. This time the city would have been reached
from the south, so to cover the districts of Rome that the Aqua Virgo could not reach.
the Aqua Felix, crossing Rome's south-eastern districts
The choice fell on the old springs of the Aqua Alexandrina, located
about 23 km (14 miles) east of the city. The death of Gregory XIII
stopped the project, but the following pope Sixtus V, partly moved by
reasons of personal interest, had the works resumed immediately after his
election, and hastily completed within two years (see Aqueducts
for more details). The viaducts of the
new aqueduct, named Aqua Felix, were made by using again the remaining arches
of the ancient Aqua Claudia and Aqua Marcia, whose course next to the city
overlapped that of the Aqua Alexandrina; only the missing parts were
built as a new structure.
Also in this case a program for the making of new
fountains was agreed. First of all, an imposing one for the
aqueduct's main output (a so-called "display" fountain,
1 in the map below); then one for each of the following spots:
|piazza Madonna dei Monti (10);
Campo Vaccino (5);
piazza Santi Apostoli;
somewhere near Trajan's column
||the square below the Capitolium (4);
piazza Altieri (now piazza del Gesł);
piazza Montanara (5, no longer existing);
on the corner of Tor de' Specchi's monastery (7).
Three of them were never built, namely the fountain near Trajan's column,
the one in piazza Santi Apostoli and the one in piazza Altieri (the last two
had already been cancelled also from the previous program, under Gregory XIII).
However, they were replaced by three more fountains that had not been scheduled:for the Senators Palace, Capitolium (4);
on one side of the Capitolium square (4);
in piazza Giudia, by the Jewish ghetto (9).
It may appear strange how, once again, the new fountains were
concentrated in a rather small part of the urban area, but
the previous aqueduct had left almost dry the Quirinal hill,
where the pope had his summer residence, and the
Capitolium hill, the heart of Rome's administration, whereas the
southern and eastern districts during the Renaissance were
still poorly inhabited.
One more fountain was built in front of the Quirinal Palace (3) at the expenses
of the Church of Rome, i.e. not as a municipal work, and another one below the
Lateran obelisk (11) was payed for by the Chapter of St.John's. The owner of
Villa Medici had one built in front of his mansion, above the Pincio hill (12).
Furthermore, some private families were given funds, water, and sometimes
marble for the making of semipublic fountains (2, 6, 8).
So after the opening of the Aqua Felix, Rome was given fourteen new fountains;
this total, though, does not include a number of small ones, and the three
ones built outside the city walls, on the spots where the Aqua Felix crossed main roads
(such as the so-called fountain of Clement XII, see part II page 2
Before his election as Sixtus V, the
relations between cardinal Peretti and the previous pope Gregory XIII,
had not been very warm; in particular, the cardinal was particularly fond
of his villa on the Esquiline hill (whose boundaries
he enlarged after becoming pope), and Gregory XIII had
frowned upon such a material interest.
This explains why the official fountain-maker,
Giacomo della Porta, "guilty" of having celebrated Gregory XIII
with so many fountains, was kept in lesser consideration.
Villa Montalto (in yellow), privately owned by Sixtus V, that stretched from
the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (1), to the Baths of Diocletian (2) and
to Tiburtina Gate (3); the area whose colour is deeper indicates the site
of today's Termini railway station; no part of the villa is still standing
Altough his activity as an architect and a fountain-maker continued also
during Sixtus V's reign, he was denied the commission for the fountains built on the three most
important spots, namely the aqueduct's end (see below), the square in
front of the Quirinal Palace, and the Capitolium hill.
Della Porta was not even consulted when, during the making of the Aqua Felix,
the aqueduct's inclination was found to be wrong, and a whole
team of experts was instructed by the pope to find a solution.
the Fountain of Moses
THE FOUNTAIN OF MOSES
(DISPLAY OF THE AQUA FELIX)
The first fountain was the one built by the aqueduct's
main output, a so-called "display", i.e. a lavish way of celebrating
the main duct and its sponsor on the spot where its course ended. Actually,
this was the first one specifically built for this purpose; when the Aqua Virgo
a.k.a. Salone water was restored, it already had a fountain at its end, but
its look was turned into a real display only in the 18th century.
The Aqua Felix ended in a rather poorly inhabited district (see map
detail below), still covered with ruins of the nearby Baths of Diocletian, but
high enough to let the water reach the central districts, flowing downhill.
The pope wanted this fountain to be a glamorous celebration of his sponsorship:
almost half the height of the whole structure is represented by
his family crest and the enormous inscription, that mentions Sixtus V,
the location of the springs (the countryside near Colonna), the route followed
(via Prenestina), the aqueduct's length (20 miles, 22 including the length
of the water springs), and how it was called "Felix" after the same pope's name.
view of the district in 1593 (looking eastwards):
1. the fountain - 2. Baths of Diocletian -
3. Four Fountains crossing -
4. corner of Sixtus V's villa - 5. Porta Pia,
the gate leading to via Nomentana
A further line remembers that the work was begun in year I, finished
in year III, 1587
the set of lions
Domenico Fontana, in charge of the fountain's making, divided the lower part into three identical niches, marked by
columns, whose central one contains a large bearded statue of Moses; the personage
refers to the biblical episode in which the leader of the Jews made water
spring from a rock by striking the latter with his staff.
Each of the side niches contains a large panel, featuring a different
biblical episode related to water.
Below the columns are four crouching lions, that spout water in rectangular
basins, enclosed by a balustrade.
By the time the aqueduct was opened, the fountain was still unfinished, and
most of its figures were yet to be carved. In fact, it was not called "fountain of Moses",
but Fons Felix ("happy fountain"), as the aqueduct. Two of the lions, though,
were already available: they were the ancient Egyptian ones removed from the
Pantheon's square (see the Fountain of piazza della Rotonda, page 4
the remaining two, instead, were specifically carved for this purpose.
It is likely that the pope urged Fontana to finish the
fountain as soon as possible, but such hurry affected the quality of the
final result. Despite the overall look of the work is quite imposing,
the artistic value of the two side reliefs is rather modest, not to mention
the central figure of Moses: soon after it had been set into place,
everybody noticed that the statue is stout and rather short; furthermore,
as Moses points his finger to the source of water, he holds in his left hand the
Tables of the Law which, according to the Bible, he had not been given yet.
the criticized Moses
the left panel likely features
Gideon choosing his soldiers
The people nicknamed the figure "the ridiculous Moses", and even the talking statues
shed a few stinging puns about the poor quality of the work, referring to it as
fons infelix ("unhappy/unsuccessful fountain").
The work was so hasty that while the left
panel undoubtly features Aaron (Moses' brother) showing the people of Israel
the source of water, the theme
of the right panel is still debated. The original documents describe it
either as Joshua leading the Jews across the river Jordan, or as Gideon
choosing his soldiers by the way they drink;
although in most publications the first of the two interpretations is
mentioned, the soldiers and the drinking figures in the panel make the other
theme appear more likely (run the mouse cursor over the picture for the
relevant biblical passage).
Even the author of the "ridiculous Moses" was mistaken;
for a long time he was believed to be sculptor Prospero Antichi,
who according to a popular belief is said to have died of grief following
the people's criticism;
but now we know that the statue was almost certainly finished by
The balustrade reveals another trace of Fontana's hurry: simply taken from a
preexisting building, it bears the inscription PIVS IIII (a pope who had
reigned some 25 years earlier), clearly readable, though never removed nor
the balustrade bears the name PIVS IIII
In the first half of the 1800s pope Gregory XVI had the two original
Egyptian lions moved to the Vatican Museums, and replaced by copies.