In recent times, in Italy of all places, we have discussed the possibility of privatising water: in June 2011, a large public turnout showed that the issue is still capable of arousing the feelings of the majority of Italians, who voted to defend the idea of public water as a common good. It is interesting, therefore, at a time when the water is starting to become a luxury commodity, to understand how the issue of water sources and their management and accessibility was viewed in the Middle Ages. The urban development of this city did not occur near a direct source of water (a river, a lake, etc.) and the Sienese have proven their ability to make up for this natural deficiency through a complex underground water system. The route presented here is based on the stories and artistic descriptions of the city’s main water sources, with the primary intention of highlighting the creative finesse of the inhabitants of Siena and human ingenuity in general.
Fonte Gaia was inaugurated in 1346 by the city magistracy: the idea of a water source as a collective good was gaining ground (e.g. Fontana Maggiore in Perugia, at the end of the thirteenth century, was the first example of a monumental public water source), and the name of the monument seems to reflect the jubilation with which the crowd welcomed the opening of a new fountain in the main square, the scene of the State’s political and economic life.
The recent events of the fountain are quite interesting: during World War II, it was moved to nearby Piazza di Santo Spirito, opposite the homonymous church, to allow the transit of military vehicles between Porta Pispini and the Santa Chiara barracks. The fountain was not restored to its current location until 2001.
The building is impressive due to its majestic structural power: it preserves three large ogival arches (two in front and one at the side) decorated with cornices. It is thought that the Fonte d’Ovile began to lose its importance in the fourteenth century, due to the construction of the Fonte Nuova inside the city walls (which was modelled architecturally on the old fountain).
The building is impressive due to its majestic structural power: it retains three large ogival arches (two in front and one at the side) decorated with cornices that form beautiful ribbed vaults in the interior. In its original completeness, the upper section of the fountain included the custodian’s house, connected to the Pian d’Ovile road (still visible today).
Exhibition made by Youth Committee of the Italian Commission for UNESCO - Tuscany. Text edited by Francesco Pacini; web version edited by Paolo Menchetti and Francesco Pacini