A short distance from Piazza Navona stands a rather curious drinking fountain, the Fontanella dei Libri. The fountain takes the form of four books (libri), five spheres, 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 administrative districts (rioni) 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) of Florence. 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:
Fontanella degli Artisti (Rione Campo Marzio), Via Margutta.
Fontanella della Pigna (Rione Pigna), Piazza di S. Marco.
Fontanella dei Monti (Rione Monti), Via S. Vito.
Rione Tiburtina, near the Verano Cemetery, (destroyed during World War II).
Fontanella del Timone (Rione Ripa), built into the walls of the S. Michele Institute.
Fontanella della Botte (Rione Trastevere), Via della Cisterna.
Fontanella dell’Emiciclo (Rione Borgo), Piazza Scossacavalli. (The fountain disappeared when the piazza was demolished during the construction of Via della Conciliazione. It was later installed on Via Cassia.)
Fontanella delle Tiare (Rione Borgo), Porta Angelica.
Fontanella delle Palle di Cannone (Rione Borgo), Largo di Porta Castello.
Fontanella dei Libri (Rione S. Eustachio), Via dei Staderari.