The many fountains of Italy

Italy in August: it will quite probably be HOT! ??

So, when we were visiting these beautiful towns and gardens under the fiery sun, the sight of a fountain was nothing short of a celebration!

Drawing of mercury pouring out of a thermometer because it's very hot
Il mercurio! Exclusive extract from my sketchbook ??

I would maybe refill my very weathered steel bottle, and very often also cool my hands and wrists under the running water; in extreme moments I directly splashed my head with water because I thought I’d melt otherwise. I might have spent too long in the UK and now I can’t cope with the Mediterranean heat! ?

There were simple freestanding stone fountains, humbly providing their service century after century:

Picture of freestanding fountain built with stone, with a yellow tap and copious amounts of moss
Freestanding fountain


Others were a bit more ambitious, as part of a bigger monument, such as this big aqueduct-looking construction in Pitigliano, hanging off the cliff that surrounds part of the city:

Picture of an aqueduct-like construction on an Italian square with a fountain in the middle

Only when you get closer you start to notice the heads pouring water (or at least, some of them):

A wide fountain made of stone, with five decorative heads

The detail on the heads is really fascinating, going from the sheer mythological appearance (who is this? Zeus? Apollo?) to the funnily grotesque! I think I enjoyed the funny ones best.

Fountain head looking like a mythological figure
Maybe Zeus
Fountain head depicting grotesque figure
Who knows!
Fountain head depicting a sad lion
Sad lion ?


Although I greatly enjoyed the art of this fountain, we actually didn’t drink water from it, as we were distracted by the idea of fabulous ice-cream from a neighbourhood parlor right in the opposite corner. An important part of our Italian education was to learn that it’s essential to have ice-cream when you’re having a walk—gelato per a la passeggiatta.

Where I did definitely drink water, splash my hands, wrists, forearms and also my head was in Viterbo. It was SO HOT that day. We were walking uphill and I was possibly evaporating with each step I took, and then I heard the free flowing water. Salvation!

I dared crossing into the sun, attracted by the notion of the heat relief the water would provide to me. It was such a powerful, simple moment. And it was deliciously refreshing. I thanked the authorities and the whole of Italy for keeping these communal jewels running.

Public fountain in Viterbo. A front supported with a wall.
Viterbo fountain


Later on the day we were to visit the dream-like garden of Villa Lante. It was like getting all the Romanticism ideals together, and then increasing their magnitude a number of times.

Starting with a rustic stone grotto with ferns, waterfalls and green water:

Stone grotto with ferns and water covered in green
Fountain of the Deluge


The sound of all these streams flowing at once was deliciously refreshing. You could sit there and just absorb it for hours (which is perhaps what they used to do in Ye Olde Days, as they didn’t have 24/7 “entertainment”).

The sight of the copious and abundant moss and lichens was also pure joy. I don’t think I had seen that many together in my whole life.

The texture of the moss was unbelievable—so plump and full of sponginess! And I couldn’t but imagine some dramatic scene unfolding in this setting. Who wouldn’t, with these crumbly and mossy stairs? Aspiring cardinals storming out of the palace, draped in a luxurious and all along too hot velvety cape, or perhaps machiavelian characters working their way into the secluded quarters, by using spies and bribing servants…

These gardens get more conventional and plain as you progress in your visit, but my favourite part was the hill, which had the most water flow and moss features, including Fontana della Tavola or Mensa del Cardinale: a big stone banquet table with a free flowing stream of water at the feet of the table, for the guests to dip and refresh their feet while partaking on the banquet. How decadent ?

Panorama of Villa Lante gardens
Villa Lante panorama

From here we moved on to Rome, which of course has its dose of mythical fountains and grottos! How would the Eternal City not? But, of course, with way less lichens and moss. Perhaps these buildings are newer, or they are cleaned them more often, or there is more lichen-averse pollution!

These two stern heads are in the gardens leading to Gallery Borghese:

Sleepy looking mythical fountain head
Sleepy, but still streaming water
Stern looking mythical fountain head
Is this Neptune? It does look like it. And also like it wants to kill you with his eyes!


The Roman Forum was also host to a number of grotti and water features. This one was a semi secret one, sort of subterranean. It had a very intriguing feel to it:

Subterranean grotto in a cave

This one was way bigger than the picture represents. But I think Villa Lante’s grotti win in drama!

Shortly after we reached this point in our visit, big thick clouds started to gather and a big storm poured like a bucket of water on us. By the time it stopped, we were already having a celebratory, well deserved pizza.

More posts from this trip.

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