The Ara Coeli fountain is located in the quiet square of the old townhouses of the Muti family. There are two splendid staircases that climb side by side, but have totally contrast to one another. One leads to the church of Ara Coeli, step and high, while the other requires no efforts with lingering stairs.
On the same level as the fountains in Rome that are not the “tourists” fountains, the showy and flamboyant pieces, the Ara Coeli is unfamiliar to people who do not know the city. Even many Romans have never heard of the fountain if you mention it to them.
The Ara Ceoli shape makes it difficult to examine and understand the concept of it. This is one of the few fountain were the architect was able to infuse both elements to create a successful fountain. On the other hand, if there was no water, would it be possible to call this arrangement a fountain? The water is what gives life to the fountain, creating the form and liveliness of the piece. If there is no water , the piece is meaningless.
The history of this fountain is very similar to that of the side fountains in Piazza Navonna. The original design of della Porta showed plans for a fountain that is extremely different from the fountain we see today. The original fountain had no circular pool, but a raised basin and an undulating “boat shaped” outline. The design was very similar to the Taureen Fountain.
The base was to be surrounded by a channel that was as deep and wide as the first step, to carry away the water, which was gushing from the lion’s heads along the lower basin. This can be compared to the technique used by Master Domenico at the fountain in Montecavallo.
Over the enormous marble basin there is a baluster resting on a cubiform base, that is decorated with festoons. There are two civic crests at the top that alternate with two larger crests bearing the arms of Alexander VII Chigi.
Della Porta, for the upper portion of the fountain, was inspired by the ancient fountain of St. Peter’s Square, This is where he incorporated the idea of the basin with four smiling cherubs pouring from the little pitchers.
There was some minor reconstructions done to the fountain under Alexander VII, but the Ara Ceoli is basically the same today as it was then. At a later date the whole bottom portion of the fountain was replaced by the current circular pool with the stumpy posts and iron railing.
The architects had in mind the alterations Bernini used when he recreated the Piazza Navonna fountains, hoping to achieve a similar look, of which he surely succeeded!