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The Fountain of the Navicella

Fontana della Navicella

On the top of the Caelian Hill, next to the splendid Villa Celimontana and in front of the church of Santa Maria in Domnica, also known as 'in navicula,' stands this delightful fountain, built, perhaps from a design by Andrea Sansovino, between 1518 and 1519, on commission by Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici, the future Pope Leo X.

The sculpture replaced a marble piece from the Roman period, the remains of which were found in the early 16th century near the church. According to an ancient legend, the ship was a votive offering dedicated to the goddess Isis by the sailors of the nearby Castra Peregrinorum, the barracks that sheltered soldiers in transit through the Urbe, or by those of the Castra Misenantium, the sailors of the fleet from Cape Misenum who lived on the Caelian Hill and were in charge of operating the 'velarium', the huge movable cover that sheltered the citizens of Rome from the rain or the heatwave while attending shows in the Colosseum.

Sculpted in travertine and white marble in the shape of a Roman galley, the fountain rests on two ladders; the deck of the navicella is traversed by a handrail supported by nine brackets interspersed with as many hatches. An unusual animal protome, the head of a wild boar, decorates the prow, while the stern bears the castle.

In 1931, when the area in front of the church was renovated, the monument was turned into a fountain fed with water from a secondary branch of the Felix Aqueduct.

The Navicella stands on a marble base adorned with the Medici coat of arms and a commemorative epigraph; the bottom of the underlying basin is made of river pebble mosaic and is decorated with figures of fish and boats. The fountain is set in the centre of a quadrangular flowerbed, circumscribed by marble columns connected by wrought-iron chains.

In ancient times, the Navicella was oriented with its stern in the direction of the Church's portico: today, its prow faces the Historic Centre of Rome, with its sides parallel to the Church's colonnade.

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Fontana della Navicella
Via della Navicella, 00184 Roma RM
41° 53' 5.3556" N, 12° 29' 45.15" E


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