The fountains of Florence
Summer in Florence is unforgiving, and this year we are having a particularly nasty one. You will need to drink lots of water to keep hydrated while visiting the city, especially in order to survive the long lines outside the museums under the scorching sun! You don’t have to worry though, Florence, like many Italian towns, is dotted with little fountains called nasoni, cylindrical fountains decorated with the lily of Florence.
Whether installed to celebrate an event, a personality of relevance for the city or just to decorate a piazza, Italian cities have always loved their fountains. Florence is no exception. So the following is a list that includes some of the most notable fountains of Florence, so that you can recognize them when you see them.
FOUNTAIN OF NEPTUNE
The Fountain of Neptune in piazza della Signoria, completed in 1574, is the work of Bartolomeo Ammannati who in this particular case followed a design of Baccio Bandinelli.
In 1559, Cosimo I de’ Medici launched a competition to design the first public fountain of the city. Neptune, who’s face is said to resemble that of the Grand Duke Cosimo, is the primary element of the fountain, standing on a chariot drawn by sea-horses.
Nicknamed “Il Biancone” (white giant), the statue of white marble has not always been loved and respected as it is today: as a matter of fact, the Florentines used to wash their clothes in its basin, an activity that rendered necessary to install a plaque on the wall of Palazzo Vecchio in 1720 forbidding it; in addition to this the fountain was vandalized many times over the centuries.
At the moment the fountain of Neptune is under restoration and it will soon be restored to its original beauty.
The Loggia del Porcellino at the Mercato Nuovo takes its name from the fountain of a boar, affectionately renamed “piglet” by the Florentines. It is a copy of the original made by Pietro Tacca in 1620 and inspired by a Hellenistic marble boar that Pope Pius IV donated to Grand Duke Cosimo in 1560.
The original marble statue was kept in the Hall of the Niches in Palazzo PItti for a while and then transferred to the Uffizi Gallery. Giorgio Vasari even mentioned it in its texts, referring to it as the statue of the “pig boar in act of suspect”, for the very alert expression of the animal.
According to the legend, rubbing the nose of the boar brings good fortune, that’s why you will see it shining and golden while the rest of the statue has oxidized to a dark bronze colour over time. A little trivia fact: if you are a Harry Potter fan you should know that a copy of the Porcellino has appeared in the films!
FOUNTAINS OF THE SEA MONSTERS
Once again it is Pietro Tacca the talent behind the creation of two beautiful and peculiar bronze fountains of Florence.
These fountains designed in Mannerist style, represent sea monsters and creatures of exceptional beauty. The naturalistic marine elements, such as shells, fish, imaginary monsters and garlands with crustacean and algae, immediately marked the fountains as a novelty.
Another element that broke from tradition was the fact that the water came down from the mouths of the monsters instead of being sprayed upwards.
The little fountains were made in 1626 for the Port of Livorno, but Ferdinand II insisted that they remain in Florence, so in 1641 they were placed in Piazza Santissima Annunziata, a decision for which we are certainly really grateful to the Grand Duke.
FONTANA DELLO SPRONE
One of the most beautiful and elegant public fountains in Florence can be found at the corner of via dello Sprone and borgo San Jacopo in the Oltrarno. It is called Fontana dello Sprone and was sculpted by Bernardo Buontalenti, who lived in the nearby area of Via Maggio; commissioned in all probability for the wedding of Cosimo II de’ Medici with Mary Magdalene of Austria in 1608.
The fountain representing a bearded face spurting water into a shell-shaped basin, was designed to create a waterfall on the front, which ended up in a little pool below.
FONTANA DEL CARCIOFO
Placed on the low wall that separates the courtyard of Palazzo Pitti and the amphitheabase, it was sculpted by Francesco Susini and Franceso della Tadda and placed on the terrace in 1641.
It is decorated with cherubs, shells and dolphins, but the elements that over the years, earned the fountain its nickname “Fontana del Carciofo” (“Artichoke Fountain”) are the decorations of the shells on the sides of the staircase of the fountain that resemble artichoke leaves.
The Fonticine tabernacle, located along via Nazionale, unites two italian traditional elements: fountains and tabernacles (which can usually be found on street corners and are devoted to the Virgin Mary).
Made by Girolamo and perhaps Giovanni della Robbia in 1522, it was called so for the presence of the seven little fountains in the shape of heads of cherubs that pour water into the marble basin below.
Originally it was nearby via Santa Caterina d'Alessandria but was dismantled and reassembled in its actual position around 1850.
Its unusual dimensions and shape make this a very original fountain for Florence.
Above the basin of the fountain, the tabernacle - a monumental Della Robbia masterpiece - is modelled in the typical polychrome glazed terracotta. It represents a Madonna and Child among the saints Jacopo, Lorenzo, Giovannino, Barbara and Caterina d'Alessandria; at the top are the Eternal Father and the Holy Spirit with adoring angels, and among the fruit and leaves of the frame, are the heads and figures of saints.
Most people pass by it without even noticing this masterpiece, due to its position in a very busy street of the city. But now that you know it’s there, you should definitely stop by and take a good look at this beautiful fountain as well!