The Enchanting Fountain Near St. John Lateran
This enchanting fountain sits on the same site as a medieval fountain that once faced the basilica of St. John Lateran. The fountain seems tiny in size because it stands near the gigantic Egyptian obelisk that had been dragged and erected to this place in 1588 by Domenico Fontana. This is a clear example of the incorrect information one often hears about Rome’s monuments.
The one thing that all writers agree upon, when discussing this fountain, is that is can be attributed to Domenico Fontana, simply because of the obelisk. It would be very easy to correct this error, especially when reading Domenico’s book, where he lists all of the works he built or demolished in Rome under the orders of Sixtus V. He devotes two pages to the erection of the obelisk, where he discusses the leveling of the square, and makes no mention to the building of a fountain. This would have certainly been mentioned had he been the architect.
There is also no sign of this fountain in Giovani Magi’s album of engravings of Rome, published for the Holy Year of 1600. Yet, the fountain does appear in the edition for the Holy Year the next year. That means that the fountain dates to sometime after 1600.
If you have any remaining doubts that Domenico was not the creator of this fountain, take a look from a note found in Panciroli’s book, Tesori nascosti dell'alma città di Roma (Hidden treasures of the bountiful city of Rome - 1625), which says, "At the foot of the obelisk springs a fountain with an abundance of water, built at the expense of the chapter [the canons of the basilica] in 1607." This description is absolutely correct when looking at the fountain which has the spread eagle and two big dragons spouting water, which are allusions to the Borghese coat of arms, belonging to Paul V who was the pontiff during 1605-1621.
It was said that this little fountain was severely damaged in the second half of the 19th century, as a result of the removal of a statue of St. John that sat on the top of the rear panel. The saint was seated between two huge fleur de lys, but we have no clue as to where these ended up.
Learn more about The Creation of the Fountain Near St. John Lateran