The Fontana Maggiore
With the completion of the acqueduct that brought running water into the centre of Perugia and the inauguration of the monumental fountain powered by those waters in Piazza Grande, in 1278 the city could finally rely on its own waters in the event of a siege.
For years Perugia had been obliged to pay heavily for its water supply. Although the two hillocks on which the city stood were ideally suited for military defence, their layout made things particularly complicated when it came to bringing water into the city.
In 1277 brother Bevignate, of the Silvestrini order, an energetic and determined man who lived to be over 100, managed to solve the city's water problem in just a few months by completing his project of building an acqueduct into Perugia and a fountain on the place where the water emerged. His popularity soared to such heights that he was instantly made an honorary citizen and awarded supervision of all the public works in the city for decades to come.
Whether the design of the fountain was brother Bevignate's or the work of two more renowned sculptors – Nicola and Giovanni Pisano – remains a mystery. The sheer pace at which the work reached completion is proof that a large workforce was employed to finish the project.
The Structure of the Fountain
The structure of the Fontana Maggiore was to strongly influence the designs of fountains in many other cities across central Italy. Made up of 85 sculpted human faces and 61 carved animal figures, the iconography of the fountain displays clear northern European influences and is an indication of the awakening of a receptiveness to proto-humanistic studies also in Italy. It is interesting to note that the work has achieved a three-dimensionality that predates Giotto in painting. The receding bas-reliefs of the lower basin add to the tangible effect achieved by the sculpted figures, which the saints and other figures that adorn the upper basin have an eerily lifelike appearance. All these are clear signs of the masterful hands of Nicola Pisano and his son Giovanni, two of the most important sculptors in 13th century Italy. The art of these two exceptional men is an interesting fusion between lessons learned from the ancient masters and Gothic style.
After admiring the beauties of the Piazza and the Fontana Maggiore, visitors are advised to stop for a meal at the Lanterna, which serves traditional Perugian and Umbrian dishes. Via U. Rocchi 6 (duomo) Perugia. Tel. (+39) 075.57.26.397. Closed Wednesdays.
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