A short distance from the Piazza Navona is a rather curious drinking fountain, the Fontanella dei Libri. The fountain takes the form of four books (libri), five balls, the letters S.P.Q.R., and the head of a stag. Look more closely at the stag’s head and you will see, between the antlers, an inscription which takes the form of a cross. What does it all mean?
In 1926 Pietro Lombardi (1894-1984), a young Roman architect, won a national competition to furnish small drinking fountains (fontanelle) for the rioni (administrative districts) of his native city. Lombardi had form in this field, having already designed the Fontana delle Anfore (Fountain of the Amphorae), which is situated in Piazza Testaccio.
Each of the fountains had to reflect the history and character of the local area. For instance, the Fontanella dei Libri refers to the church of Sant' Eustachio (stag, antlers and cross), the Sapienza, the old university of Rome (books), and the Palazzo Madama (now the seat of the Senate), which once belonged to the Medici family (balls). All three buildings lie with a stone's throw of the fountain. The letters S.P.Q.R. stand for SENATUS POPULUSQUE ROMANUS and are part of the logo of Rome's Comune (City Council).
Lombardi designed a total of 10 fountains:
The Fontanella della Cancelleria (Rione di Parione) is not the work of Lombardi; the fountain was created in 1930 by Publio Morbiducci.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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