Cup Size Lion Fountains: Egyptian Lion Fountain
The two basalt lions that make up the foot of the ramp leading to Capitoline Square, is one of the four fountains located at Capitoline Hill.
These fountains are relatively small, cup sized fountains. The basalt lions were restored in 1955 when the idea occurred to put the Capitoline Hill collection of Egyptian artifacts together. The fountains were previously removed in 1880, but were refurbished and restored to earlier versions with the lions being incorporated.
During the times of new elections of Popes or senators, during the 17th Century, the Lion’s would pour wine from their spouts instead of the water. One would pour red and one would pour white wine. This was a wonderful source of entertainment for the people, as it would often cause a raucous as people vied to collect the wine in cups and jugs!
These Egyptian sculptures, made from pink-veined dark grey granite, were half lion and half sphinx. These provide a wonderful contrast to the travertine that made up so many of the features, and served as a wonderful precursor to the bronze of Marcus Aurelius. These lions were found in front of the church of S. Stefano del Cacco, whose name came from the two black basalt lions from Numidia that were in front of the church during the time of Pius IV. The lions were transported to the Capiltoline to be used as ornaments to be placed at the steps that form the ramps leading up to the square.
The idea to turn these characters into a lively fountain occurred as water was brought to the Capitoline, around the same time as the construction for the fountain below the Senate Steps. The necessary holes were added to the lions and spouts were placed into their mouths. These lions, born over 2,000 years earlier, had to adapt to their new role, and did so in an exciting and wonderful way.