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Roman Architecture - Fountains

( Originally Published 1921 )



Fountains, public and private, have always been striking features of ancient and modern Rome, on account of their graceful design and the splashing of clear water in a hot and crowded city. Public fountains, which were numerous, amounting to many hundreds in the various Roman cities, were designed either as a large basin of water (" lacus "), or as spouting jets (" salientes "), or the two were combined with marble columns and statues. Private fountains existed in great numbers, mainly in the courts and gardens of houses, with great variety of design in coloured marbles and porphyries, and were often decorated with bronze statuettes. The water sometimes issued from fishes, shells, or other objects supported by a figure of a nymph and sometimes from lions' heads in wall niches lined with mosaics, as at Pompeii.

The ancient Roman regard for running waters, which almost amounted to adoration, found expression not only in triumphant aqueducts and monumental thermae, but also in these numberless fountains in the cities which made up that great Empire. Water, ever fresh and ever changing, was used to memorialise great men and noble deeds. Water-shrines as sculptured fountains honoured the dead and served the living. This cult of water in Classic times became a continuous tradition, and we have only to look on the fountains of Mediaeval and Renaissance Rome to realise how much the city owes of charm to this universal display of gushing and falling waters. Great is the mystery of water and its courses and there are still other waters in this city of many centuries, which, buried under the burden of much building, are now only known as the hidden waters of Rome.



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