St. Peters Fountain

It consisted of golden bulls, from whose mouths the water fell into a granite basin, and the bull was the emblem of the Borgia family. During the crowded years of the famous Cinque Cento, or until the pontificate of Gregory XIII, this fountain of Innocent VIII, and the old fountain of Trevi (restored by Sixtus IV) supplied Rome with what the present day would call its pure drinking water. They contained the only water brought into the city from distant springs, for mediaeval Rome had lost all but two of her great aqueducts, and these were constantly falling into disuse; and all the pontiffs, painters, poets, and architects, as well as the populace of that dramatic period drank the doubtful water of wells and of the Tiber.

This fountain of Innocent VIII was destroyed when the modern Piazza of St. Peters replaced the very much smaller one of earlier days. Probably the golden bulls were melted down into other shapes, and the great red granite basin was used by Carlo Maderno for the upper basin of the magnificent new fountain which he designed and executed at that period for Paul V, and which is the northern one of the two fountains of the present day in the Piazza of St. Peters.

Standing between the fountains of St. Peters is an obelisk, the surpassing interest of whose history adds not a little to the importance of the fountains themselves, and indeed of the entire square. It is, according to Lanciani, undoubtedly the obelisk at the foot of which St. Peter was crucified. Formerly the place of his martyrdom was located on the Janiculum Hill, on the spot where San Pietro in Montorio was built by Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile to commemorate the event. Lately this location of the site of St. Peters crucifixion has been discredited, but it is easy to see how that mistake occurred.

Caligula had brought the obelisk from Heliopolis some time during the four short years of his reign and placed it in the circus he began to build in those gardens of his mother, the noble Agrippina the elder, which lay along the northern side of the plain between the Janiculum and Mons Vaticanus. There it stood on the centre of the spina, the long, straight fine stretching down the middle of the arena from the two opposite goals at either end.

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