The Location of the Santa Maria in Cosmedin
This corner of Rome seems to be filled with ancient memory, both pagan and Christian. Now- a-days, it a lucky place for restorers and scientists alike, who seem to have an uncanny like with what they find here. In 1719 the area where this fountain was built, was uninhabited and a rather sorry place. The area was described as, "not only is there nothing of any kind worth seeing, but everything seems mean, vile, abject, rough and abandoned." This area experienced horrible dust in the summer, and thick dense mud in the winter.
Pope Clement XI commissioned Carlo Bizzaccheri to erect a fountain, in this location of all places to choose, in hope of refurbishing the square outside of the church. The work began in August of 1717. The first stone was blessed privately and some medals were added. These medals included the images of the blessed Virgin, whom the church was named after, as well as St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of water.
Bizzaccheri took to crest of Pope Clement as his inspiration for this fountain. He designed a great octagonal basin with concave sides, so it formed an 8-pointed star, like that of the Albani’s crest. He repeated this contour in the single step that went around, but was hardly wider than the fountain. The step, barely visible today, due to the rising of the ground, was surrounded by a circulate base, with a ring of 16 posts joined together by iron railing.
The fountain was made from Travertine. There are two scaly and gigantic tritons in the center, who seem to rise out of the rocky outcrops, and are decorated with aquatic plants. The powerful tritons are kneeling, back to back, with their tails entwined. Their arms are raised up, supporting the second basin that is shaped to appear as a seashell. The basin also has the coat of arms of Clement on opposite sides of the basin. There are three small mounds in the center of the open shell, where the water comes from. It originally flowed rather high, but barely reaches a trickle today.
Water is a serious problem for this charming fountain. It creation was made with only 6 ounces of Aqua Felice, piped from the cistern on the Capitoline hill. The pontiff was fond of this fountain, and ordered the piping in of the water. He set out his wishes, in his own, hand, stating that it was his wish that the fountain receive two more ounces of water to be donated, "by the generous Conservatori of the Roman People (City Administrators)." Therefore, the fountain received 8 ounces in total; which has been reduced over the years, to only two. When compared to the Trevi, the insignificance is clear, as the Trevi receives 56. The scant supply of water, probably led to the removal of the four groups, in the 19th century, with the crests of his holiness, from where two jets of water fell into the cup, without being in the way or making it difficult to drink.
Learn about where the concept of the Santa Maria in Cosmedin came from.