Reorganizing the St. Peter’s Square: Bernini’s Contribution
A 17th century author wrote that this fountain was "the most beautiful in Europe," and "rises with a majestic abundance that seems to send a river into the air”. It remained in this strange position, out of line with the obelisk in the center of the square, until the time of Alexander VII, when he decided to erect the huge colonnade. The colonnade was built as a way to provide employment to the craftsmen who were currently unemployed at the time, a manuscript from the time states, His Holiness Alexander VII having resolved to build around the square of the Sacred and Holy Vatican Basilica a most noble porticoes 'theater,' not so much to increase admiration for that most famous edifice today celebrated all over the world, as to provide an opportunity for work to the great number of poor craftsmen who, in the present disastrous times, can find nothing to do. This most holy intention has given cause for rejoicing to the whole city, and especially the said poor craftsmen, who are praying to the Lord God that this noble and worthy work will soon begin."
It was left to Bernini to reorganize the entire square. He demolished the old fountain again, with the goal of lining it up to the obelisk and the new fountain planned for the opposite end. He also rebuilt the fountain a few yards forward, but stayed true to the design of Maderno, only changing the size of the basin, and making it lower.
The construction of the two fountains began on January 8th, 1667. The old fountain took roughly a year, while the new fountain took 10 years to complete, as a result of the shortage of water from the Aqua Paola. There was simple not enough water to supply two fountain of the size of these fountains. It was also impossible to find new sources of water without polluting the aqueducts of Trajan and Paul V.
The Orsini Family tried to sell 1000 ounces of water during the pontificate of Innocent X, from Lake Bracciano, which they owned. However this water was found to be too polluted for a public aqueduct. The family would try again under Alexander VII, since they were well aware of his desire to have these huge fountains in St. Peters Square. They failed again, but ironically the Pope used unhealthy water from the Arrone River for his own purposes.
The Orsini family did not let go of their quests, and finally succeeded in selling 1000 ounces of water from the lake to Clement X in 1673, ruining the chances of ever restoring drinkable water to the Pauline aqueduct.
Bernini was able to finally finish the second fountain with this guarantee of a new water supply. The second fountain, identical to the first, was inaugurated in June of 1677, under the reign of Innocent XI.
The noble Roman family sold the water as drinkable. There is documentation that was actually signed by a member of the Papal council supporting this through research. He stated he was present when the Sapienza University conducted "a number of experiments made to prove the goodness of the water from Lake Bracciano." The rigorous examination on the basis of Avicenna, Galen, and Hippocrates was carried out.