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L’Aquila: the Fountain of 99 Spouts

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The Fountain of 99 Spouts (in italian Fontana delle 99 Cannelle), is an icon in the city of L’Aquila, and one of the most impressive and famous monuments in the center/southern Italian region of Abruzzo. Historically, the number 99 seems to have been associated to the city and the Fountain some time after the construction. Built in the 13th century, it is shrouded in legend, and the true meaning of its 99 sculpted stone faces is still today a mystery.

The name “99 spouts” started to be used only decades after the foundation, probably when Buccio da Ranallo wrote his poem in vernacular on the origin of the town. The inscription in the fountain does not mention the number 99, and the fountain was known originally as the Fontana della Rivera, and Rivera was the quarter placed at lower altitude in the town, bordering the river Aterno.
Buccio da Ranallo wrote that the fountain was a kind of memorial monument for the founders, 99 castles (even if there were actually far fewer, approximately 70) in the Aquilan Valley which joined to build the new town (the “urbs nova” of the inscription), each building a square with a church and a fountain surrounded by houses, and moving the population from the village of the original castle to the new city.
The fountain is therefore closely connected to the origins of L’Aquila, and another legend says that under a stone much bigger than the others the architect Tancredi was buried, after being executed because he refused to reveal the location of the spring, or (there are different versions) in order that he would never reveal the location of the spring, or because, being asked whether he would be able to build another similar fountain, he said sure, he would.

In 1578 the lowest basins were added to allow women to do their washing there: the clothes were rubbed with soap and left on the fountain stairways under the sun for obtain a thoroughly white washing, and the stairways were always slippery. In 1657, at the time of the great plague which killed four local inhabitants out of ten, four big boilers were placed in the fountain courtyard to sterilize the clothes of the whole city, and in happier occasions, banquets used to be held in the honour of important local people.

The fountain, with a trapezoidal shape, has three pools overlapped by horizontal rows of it seems 93 (not 99) water-spouting faces. And it’s probably that another six spouts were added later, jutting out from a stone near the fountain entrance. The four corners are placed in the directions of the four compass points and the left-side corner being North. The overlapping rows of alternated red and white stones creates the optical illusion of distorting and bending horizontal lines. Each face is incredibly sculpted and each with a different expression. Their exact allegoric meaning is still debated, but it’s possible that they could be caricatural representations of real existing, influential people of the time like monks, priests, knights, but also pagan figures such as satyrs, demons, animal-human hybrids.

Today no one is sure of the origins of the fountain, what faces represent, or what their positioning and number may symbolize. It was inspired years of hypotesis, of course, and lot of rumors about the enigmatic fountain, that could be linked also to the famous Knights Templar. But all the questions are still unanswered.

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