Palermo’s 16th century Pretoria Fountains - fabulous composition of life-sized mythological gods, nymphs, satyrs and animals sprinkling streams of water is a living testimony to human visions by far exceeding the time of its creation….
Pretoria Fountain is probably one of the most beautiful fountains in Italy.
It was made between 1552 and 1555 by a Florentine sculptor and architect Francesco Camilliani and Michelangelo Naccherino for the luxurious Tuscan villa of the viceroy don Pedro de Toledo.
It’s not clear why, but probably the high cost as well “extensive” nudity of the statues (keep in mind – we are in the middle of the 16th century) prompted the owner to sell the fountain.
In 1573, with the “little help” of his brother Don Garcia (the former viceroy of Palermo) the City’s Council decided to acquire the fountain for the public place (today we call it corruption!). The rest is a history that at the end turned out beautifully for Palermo.
Pretoria Fountain - Palermo
Pretoria Fountain is an expression of beauty of human bodies
The fountain was disassembled and shipped to Palermo finding its final place on the prestigious Piazza Pretoria. Indeed, it will be difficult to find more prominent place. Flanked by two magnificent churches of Saint Catherine and Saint Joseph dei Teatini as well as Palazzo Senatorio (City Hall), located next to the famous Quattro Canti, the piazza is a focal point of the Old Palermo.
But the process of setting-up the fountain in the center of Palermo was not easy. It took an extra effort to “adjust” the fountain to the “16th century level of tolerance” of the Sicilian society. Although nudity was nothing new in Mediterranean cultures, Pretoria Fountain with its public exposition of live-size nude statues of nymphs, goddesses and satyrs was an unprecedented act of boldness. In those times the Inquisition was still ruling not only minds and souls but also behavior of the population.
Upper part of the fountain with the dome of the Church of San Giuseppe dei Teatini in the background
The “adaptation” works were carried out by Camilliani’s son Camillo. To make it more “digestible” for local population the fountain received some local “flavors” like the statue of Ceres (goddess of agriculture and fertility associated with Sicily) and cascades of water imitating four local streams (Papireto, Kemonia, Oreto (Orethos) and Cala Inlet).
It took also a lot of work to fit the fountain into the tight urban space. Some nearby buildings had to be demolished to make space for such monumental “exhibition of art”.
But not surprisingly, when in 1584 the fountain was revealed to the public, the nudity originally designed for the private garden was not well received and the fountain quickly gained the (nick)-name “Fontana della Vergogna” (Fountain of Shame). These days however, although fountain’s nickname is still deeply rooted in the collective memory of Palermitans, the fountain is rather an object of admiration for tourists and source of pride for Palermitans. And frankly, given today’s moral standards, fountain’s nude statues are an example of modesty in exposition of the beauty of human bodies.
Indeed, this fabulous composition of life-sized mythological gods, nymphs, allegorical creatures, satyrs and animals sprinkling the streams of water is a living testimony to human visions by far exceeding the time of its creation….
Fontana Pretoria - Lion and elephant
Piazza Pretoria - it's not only nudity.....
"Fountain of Shame"(in the background the church of St. Catherine)
Nymph and the Satyrs (in the background the Church of San Giuseppe dei Teatini )
Piazza Pretoria Palermo - central part of the fountain
Pretoria Fountain (Palermo) - Nymphs
After recent renovation the statues standing along fountains’ inner and outer rings regained their original shining look – so characteristic for white marble Carrara. Four flights of steps connecting fountain’s rings are encircling a sophisticated central point with Dionysus at the top. In the past stairs allowed public to access the heart of the fountain. Now the whole fountain is surrounded by railings protecting “The Art” from hordes of visitors.
Thanks to the floodlight at night, the Pretoria Fountain (as well as the whole Piazza Pretoria with surrounding architectural marvels) is a 24/7 touristic sight…..
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