May 10, 2013

The fountain of turtles

The little piazza Mattei, located between the chaotic Piazza Venezia and the quiet ghetto, alludes tourists as well as most romans.  It is a peaceful oasis amid a busy thoroughfare.  Nevertheless, the wonderful Renaissance fountain by Giacomo Della Porta which sits in the piazza, named "the Fountain of turtles" (see photo) deserves our attention.
The fountain of turtles

The fountain of turtles
The fountain, perhaps executed on Raphael's design, is noteworthy not simply because, as many say, "the beautiful sculptural elements prevail over the architectural ones", but because, like Rome itself, it arose as part of a legend.

400 years ago, the legend begins, a duke of the Mattei family lived in a palazzo standing near the piazza which now bears his family name.  The duke was an inveterate gambler, and he lost his estate in one night, even the house where he lived.

The sensational loss came to the attention of the father of his fiancĂ©e.  After hearing the news, he warned the duke not to marry his daughter.  But the duke Mattei, offended and saddened by the warning, sought to show his father-in-law to be that he was still a man with authority and power despite his losses and the rumors of his gambling. To prove it, he swore he would build something extraordinary in just one night, something to surpass what he had so famously lost.

In a single day, from night until morning, the legend goes, he built the wonderful fountain of turtles exactly where it now sits in a square in full view of his palazzo's central window.  The duke had invited his fiancee and her father to visit his home.  That morning he walked them into the central hall then, suddenly, he opened the window, unveiling the precious fountain, and said: "see what a poor man like me is able to do in just a few hours!".  The father and the daughter were dumbfounded. The father apologized and allowed the duke to renew his marriage proposal. To mark the event in history, the duke built a wall to forever block the view from the central window.

The walled window
The walled window
In fact, still today, we can see from the fountain towards the central point of the opposite building's wall, in a perfect collocation, a window walled so neatly architects from around the world wouldn't know of the window nor the reason it was made into a wall.

Yet, if the story is not a legend but rather a true account of how the fountain was built, how did the duke and his men build it in just one night? Documents say that the fountain was built in 1585, but the Mattei's Palazzo and the legend itself were made some 50 years later. We can speculate that the duke with his men didn't construct the fountain in a single night, but moved the 50 year old fountain from another place, not so distant, but more hidden!

On the map, piazza Mattei is here

1 comment :

  1. Thank you, Alessio, for this beautiful story and for the great job you did with your blog!
    Laura

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