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The Fountain of the Lateran Obelisk

Fontana dell'Obelisco Lateranense

The fountain is located in Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano at the foot of the imposing red granite obelisk, the tallest and the most ancient in Rome, raised by Domenico Fontana in 1588 for the new layout of the square commissioned by Pope Sixtus V.

Probably, the construction of the fountain was financed by the Lateran Canons under Pope Clement VIII, perhaps for the 17th-century Jubilee. It was continued by Leo XI Medici and completed by Paul V Borghese in 1607.

Of an uncertain author, it may have been made to a design by Flaminio Ponzio. It is fed by the Felice Aqueduct and is dedicated to Saint John the Evangelist.
A Pod-shaped decorated marble basin, set against a high base, is surmounted by a pair of dolphins. Their intertwined tails support a shell valve, which receives water from two winged dragons and an eagle, placed as a frame for the noble coat of arms with the tiara and papal keys of Paul V Borghese. Above, a contrasting decorative band recalls the heraldic emblem of Clement VIII Alobrandini.

The fountain is laterally framed by two volutes with lion heads bearing festoons of flowers and fruit in the jaws. The decoration probably refers to the coat of arms of Sixtus V and suggests the intervention by Domenico Fontana (even if the work is not mentioned in the catalogue written by the architect himself).

Fascinating facts: according to an ancient tradition, Roman people used to get their hands wet in the fountain on the night of St. John. They believed that its water had the power to keep witches and evil eye away.

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Fontana dell'Obelisco Lateranense, Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano
Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano
41° 53' 12.7464" N, 12° 30' 15.8256" E


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