The Fountain of the Naiads (La Fontana delle Naiadi) is one of the largest monuments in Rome. It was designed and constructed in many stages by Alessandro Guerrieri and completed by Mario Rutelli. Located in the centre of the Piazza della Repubblica, the fountain contains four water Nymphs (Najadi) that have been placed on the lower four basins. These young naked sculptures were a shock for the Romans.
The Fountain of the Naiads was created in 1888, but originally completed in 1901 with addition in 1911 by Alessandro Guerrieri and completed by Mario Rutelli. The base of the monument dates back to 1870s. Pope Pius IX originally had the fountain built to commemorate the creation of the new aqueduct named Acqua Pia-Marcia after the ancient Aqua Marcia constructed in 144 BC. However, several years later, the new Italian government renovated the whole area and the fountain was increased in size and moved about 80 meters to the location where it stands today.
There were no statues at this time on the fountain and it had a simple structure with a series of basins at various levels. Consequently, when German emperor Willia II visited Rome, four plaster lions were created by Alessandro Guerrieri to decorate the corners of the fountain.
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Reaction of the Romans
Many citizens of Rome were unsatisfied by the decoration of the fountain and the city council of Rome decided to commission real statues. Eventually, in 1901, Mario Rutelli, a Sicilian artist, was commissioned to design four statues to decorate the corners of the fountain. New sculptures created are four nymphs: the Naiad of the Oceans, the Naiad of the Rivers, the Naiad of the Lakes, and the Naiad of Underground Waters, where each one featured with an animal from their environments.
- The Naiad of the Rivers is represented with a water snake
- The Naiad of the Oceans is represented with a sea horse
- The Naiad of the Lakes is represented with a swan
- The Naiad of the Underground Waters is represented with a reptile
Undoubtedly, locals were shocked by the work of Rutelli, since the model of the Naiads was based on two twin prostitutes in Rome. Moreover, the sculpted figures were nude and it caused a controversy in conservative circles in the Eternal City. However, the city council decided that the figures should stay.
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For a long time the fountain was considered very obscene sight
Eventually, Rutelli prepared sculptures for the center piece of the fountain that featured three human figures, a dolphin and an octopus, tangled together in a wrestle. However, these sculptures received many sarcastic comments, being named as “the fish try of Termini.” Consequently, Rutelli was asked to create a new figure. As the result, he designed the male figure embracing a dolphin. Also, the model of the “fish try” was moved to the gardens in piazza Vittorio Emmanuele II, where it was used as decoration of a small pond. With the addition of another one bronze figure in the center, the fountain’s design was completed.
The Naiads come from Greek mythology. They were nymphs of bodies of fresh water and were considered as one of the three main classes of water nymphs. Moreover, the Naiads presided over rivers, brooks, streams, fountains, lakes, springs, and marshes. Their origin varies according to the location and literary source. Some said that Naiads were daughters of Zeus, while others connected them to the vast family of the Titan Oceanus.
Like any other nymphs, the Naiads were the female sex symbols of the ancient world
Moreover, classical literature is full of stories of the Naiad’s love affairs with gods, men and stories of their children.
The Fountain of the Naiads is one of the Roman gems. It is not only one of the largest and most popular monuments of the Eternal City, which attracts thousands of tourists daily, but also a masterpiece with a rich history.