Glocal Eyes - Blog

Rome has always had a continuous relationship with water: the Tiber river runs right through the center of the city, and even the geological structure of the soil has shed light on numerous sources of water throughout the past.

The Romans have always been concerned with water as a public resource, in particular.
In fact, they fully integrated numerous aqueducts, cisterns, and baths throughout the ancient city.
Public fountains already existed in those times and today there are over 2000 scattered across Rome.
Among the many marvelous fountains, there is one that is not notable so much for its beauty or its preservation, but more for its function.
It is perhaps the oldest fountain that exists for the use of cats and dogs.
You can find it near the Lungotevere Tor di Nona, in Piazza San Salvatore in Lauro (which is named for the small group of Laurel trees that grew there a few centuries ago, extending from the piazza to the bank of Tiber River).
This fountain is part of a well-known group of so-called “wandering fountains” that have changed location at least one time during their existence.
In fact, this fountain was originally located on Via di Panico, from the time of its construction in 1579, on the orders of Gregory XIII, also known as Ugo Boncompagni, who was Pope from 1572 until 1585. In the 1920’s, it was moved, due to construction, to the place where it is found today.
At this point it was already in pretty poor condition.
Looking at the front of the church of San Salvatore in Lauro, which was built in the 12th century and later rebuilt many times, our fountain can be found to the left, against the wall of the Palazzo dei Piceni, a convent adjacent to the church.
The Fountain of the Lion, as this source of fresh water is officially called, consists of a simple little cave, that makes a recess in the walls of the palazzo.
Two columns stand on either side, and in the middle you will see the head of a lion, carved out of white marble.
At this point, the sculpture is so worn down that it more closely resembles a well-used stuffed animal.
A stream of water flows from the mouth of the lion, at a height from the floor of about 30 centimeters, into a small basin, built into the ground.
Above the frame of the fountain is a marble plaque dating back to 1579.
It contains a Latin inscription which is translated as: “Just the Virgin Water pours from the mouth of a wolf that is gentler than a lamb for the people in the Campus Martius, so here the pristine water which is presided over by the Virgin also pours from the mouth of a lion gentler than a baby goat. And it is no wonder: the pious dragon that rules the whole world has rendered both of them meek by his own example.”
This inscription references the origin of water.
The “Virgin Water” and the “pristine water which is presided over by the Virgin” are clear references to the Acqua Vergine which comes from a specific aqueduct, which was built by Marco Vipsanio Agrippa in the 1st century BC in order to provide water to the area of Rome known as the Campus Martius.
The most famous fountain that uses this type of water is the Trevi Fountain.
Returning to the inscription, we see that it refers to a second fountain, which could be found on the Via della Lupa, but it does not exist anymore.
Now all that remains is a commemorative plaque on the modern street of Via dei Prefetti.
The “pious dragon that rules the whole world” is actually the dragon on the coat of arms of the family of Pope Gregory XIII.
We can vouch that this small fountain effectively carries out its function of quenching the thirst of dogs and other animals that pass trough the piazza.
For us, it only took a couple of minutes before the first dog appeared, as you can see in the photos.
In this case, it was a purebred dog with its owner, but residents told us that during the hot summer nights, lots of stray dogs come to this fountain to find some relief, as they satisfy their thirst.
We want to mention a second fountain in Rome dedicated to our four-legged-friends.
This one is found on the Via Veneto and it is much more recent than the one with the lion.
It was created by a man named Mister Charlie, who ran the nearby GUI Bar and was the owner of two huge dogs.
Perhaps because these fountains are used for something besides human use, it is easy to ignore the lack of style and esthetics, and focus solely on their function.
In doing so, we find a great sense of beauty in the balance between water and it’s natural ability to quench the thirst of those who need it.


Piazza San Salvatore in Lauro