The Creation of the St. Peter’s Square Fountain
It would be in 1501 that Pope Alexander VI decided to have his architect, Alberto da Piacenza to some work to the fountain in St. Peter’s Square.
The only record documenting this process was records of payments made to the craftsmen. Therefore it is hard to determine what alterations were actually made. We do know the changes were ornamental in nature, including a third basin added to the top, featuring four ox heads, the coat of arms of the Borgia. These heads would pour water into the middle basin. The family crest of the Pope was also added in several locations. The base was added at this time also, as well as the typical “horse trough”.
Two fountain experts from Viterbo actually came to judge the work of Master Alberto. These two experts spent weeks in Rome to see the fountain, newly restored and decorated, that had been inaugurated in December of 1501.
After the death of the Borgia Pope, who did not leave behind a grieving city or odor of sanctity, was probably when the ox heads were replaced with cherubs pouring water. At this point the fountain was unchanged until the time of Paul V, as it was loved by its populace for its abundance of water. During the time of Paul V’s conduit, he chose to have a group of fountains built in the area of the Borgo, which still had no water running at this time.
A small group of master masons signed contracts in 1614, undertaking the task of creating several pipelines that would carry water from the Belvedere Gardens of the Vatican to St. Peters Square. A display fountain was to be made in the square as well. The masons promised to create good straight pipes with no defects, also promising to complete the task by the next Easter, with a penalty of 300 scudi if they failed.
Another small group of stonecutters also signed a contract on the same day, swearing to complete fountains at St. Peters and San Giacomo Scossacavalli by the middle of Lent. They were, however, still working in August. The director for both fountains was a man named Carlo Maderno. He demolished the Pope’s old fountain, erecting an enormous fountain, that actually did not differ too much from other fountains done in the past, but the proportion and size managed to make it distinctive none-the-less.
Placed in the center of the basically square pool, sat massive octagonal baluster, that features the coat of arms of Paul V decorated on its sides. The baluster supported the large basin of Numidian marble, which collected the abundant water overflowing from the basin above. The upper basin was an exciting feature, being upside down with scales. It was from the center platform of the large basin that jets from the Aqua Paola gushed violently towards the upper basin.