Fontana dell’Acqua Felice was the one who inspired Giovanni Fontana’s design of Fontana dell’Acqua Paola. It was built between 1585 and 1588, in the Quirinal district of Rome, when Pope Sixtus V initiated the project of restoring an ancient aqueduct of Rome, namely, the Acqua Alexandrina Aqueduct, subsequently named Acqua Felice, after the layman name of the pope (Felice Peretti). It is in the context of this larger project of restoring the ancient structure (a project motivated, in part, by the scarcity of collection points of clean drinking water in Rome) that the fountain was built, marking the endpoint of the aqueduct.

In the form it can be admired today it was designed by Domenico Fontana. A previous version had been, however, built by the original architect designated to design it, Matteo Bartolani, who disappointed the expectations of the pope (and of the locals) in terms of practicability (the engineering miscalculations led to the insufficient supply of water). The structure was built in the form of a triumphal arch inspired from the ancient Roman architecture. The central niche is filled with the imposing statue of Moses (hence, the fountain was dubbed the Fountain of Moses), flanked sideways (in the lateral niches) by the statues of Aaron and Gideon. Moses was sculpted by Leonardo Sormani and Prospero da Brescia (the latter is said to have died of grief when he saw the result of his work, a disappointment he could not endure when he compared his sculpture with Michelangelo’s Moses in the Basilica of Saint Peter in Chains). Obviously, the fountain is replete with symbols related to the Catholic Church (a feature explainable by the historical context in which the monument was built, such as to hint on the beneficial impact of the church on Christendom, back then largely affected by the emerging Protestant wave).

Three basins stand at the base of the fountain, collecting the water sprouting from the three statues. The frontispiece reads a text dedicated to Sixtus V, overtopped, at its turn, by two angels which sustain the papal insignia.

Fontana dell’Acqua Felice
Piazza San Bernardo, Rome, Italy