No one can walk the Roman streets without perceiving, and almost at once, that here time is of no importance. It is, in fact, an absolutely negligible quantity. Buildings and monuments dating from widely diverse periods stand side by side, and it is in no wise incongruous from the Roman standpoint to find at the head of the Borgo (the ancient Leonine city) one of the very latest fountains of papal Rome. It is a charming little creation, quite consciously harking back to the great days of the papacy and rebuking by its sober, yet imaginative sculpture those geometrical designs or extravagant ebullitions of fancy-the fountains of the present regime. It stands in the Piazza Pia, against that narrow facade which blunts the point of the long angle or wedge-shaped block of buildings lying between the Borgo Vecchio and the Borgo Nuovo. Its Fontanesque mostra is composed of two beautiful white Carrara columns with Corinthian capitals supporting a pediment and entablature on which is an inscription to the effect that the fountain was erected by Pius IX in the sixteenth year of his pontificate, which would make it the year 1862. The sculptural part of the fountain bears a certain resemblance to the work of Luigi Amici and Bitta Zappala, the artists who not many years later executed the modern figures in the side fountains of the Piazza Navona.
The Piazza Pia fountain might also be ascribed to Tenerani, a distinguished sculptor of Pius IX’s pontificate, who, in his devotion to the Pope, did not disdain to design some of the triumphal devices with which Rome welcomed back Pio Nono after Gaeta. But Tenerani’s bust is among the “Silent Company of the Pincio,” and if the little fountain were indeed his work, the fact would be known. As it is, the sculptor’s name seems, for the present, at least, to have been forgotten in the confusion attendant upon the transformation of papal into Italian Rome.
The fountain originally held Paola water, and the charming little vase and dolphins composed of white Carrara have become through the deposits of this water so black that the beauty of the fountain is distinctly marred. This fountain takes the place of an earlier one executed by Carlo Maderno and called the Mask of the Borgo. The design was a large mask from which water flowed into a pilgrim shell over which perched the Borghese eagle, while two lions’ heads on either side spouted additional streams. As this first fountain was in travertine it had in all probability succumbed to the disastrous effects of the Paola water, which seems to disintegrate as well as to discolor some varieties of that stone.