“City of beautiful women and beautiful fountains” is how Viterbo was defined in the past. The opinion on the gracefulness of the local inhabitants is highly subjective and susceptible to a thousand interpretations, while the historical and aesthetic value of Viterbo’s fountains is obvious. The historic city center includes ten monumental fountains, attributable to a period ranging from the 1200s to 1600s, which constitute an original and interesting guided tour through the millenary art of functional water supply to the vital needs of citizens. In past centuries, local able workers knew how to channel the waters coming from the Cimini mountains to supply the city and feed these “peperino” stone jewels that adorn the streets.
The “water” tour can start from Fontana Grande, in the piazza, with the same name, that can be easily reached from Porta Romana. This fountain is considered the most beautiful and important so much so that a faithful reproduction is located on the Greek island of Rhodes. Historical sources date it back to the second half of the 1200s, with further additions and renovations during the 1400s. Fontana Grande is a mixture of different styles that make it extremely unique and precious. Five fountains with similar shape also date back to the Middle Ages and are known as “spindle” fountains. The oldest is the Fountain of Death (located in Piazza della Morte, a few meters from the Palace of the Popes), built in the early 1200s. Of the same workmanship, there is Fontana di San Giovanni and that of Crocetta, both in Via Mazzini, the Fountain of San Faustino in the square with the same name and, finally, the Pianoscarano Fountain. While the first four date back to the 1200s, the latter was rebuilt in 1367.
If Fontana Grande is easily accessible from Porta Romana, from the other main entrance to the old town of Viterbo, that of Porta Fiorentina, you will come straight to Fontana della Rocca, an elegant and majestic Renaissance work designed by Vignola, located just opposite the Rocca Albornoz (now the National Etruscan Museum), which was the residence of the Popes especially during the Renaissance. The parts that make up Fontana del Gesu, located in Piazza del Gesù, are also from the renaissance, but with a difference: this fountain was installed here, in the square that historically housed the market, in 1923. These fragments came from the demolished convent of San Domenico, which no longer exists, and where the current Via Tommaso Carletti was built in the 1930s. Finally, two fountains were built in the 1600s and both are inspired by the coat of arms of the city of Viterbo, the Lion: the Fontanta dei Leoni (The Fountain of the Lions) and Fontana di Palazzo dei Priori. The Fountain of the Lions, in Piazza delle Erbe, was restored about two centuries after it was built, when the original lions were replaced by those made by the sculptor of Viterbo, Pio Fedi, an artist well known and active in Florence (his work, the “Rape of Polyxena” it is still on display in Piazza della Signoria, in the Loggia dei Lanzi). The Fontana di Palazzo dei Priori built in 1627 is located in the courtyard of the building that houses the town hall. It is a very elegant fountain with sculptures of two lions supporting the Ferento palm tree, an element found on the coat of arms since 1172, the year in which Viterbo destroyed the nearby Roman city.