The Functional and Aesthetic History of Water Fountains

Vase from IraqWater fountains didn’t always only serve purely decorative purposes. They were, in fact, functional parts of a city. A predecessor of running water, fountains were once the lifeblood of budding ancient metropolises. Although the water fountain has, according to several leading pool and spa designers like, become the centerpiece of many modern private gardens these days, it would do well not to forget that the fountain was first a beast of necessity.

Before the Romans

Vases and water holders date back to 2000 BC in Iraq. A stone basin, for instance, captured precious drinking water delivered to the Assyrians via aqueduct. A civilization that missed out on fountains, however, was the Egyptians. Since the earth’s gravitational pull made fountains run, the lack of elevated sources limited them.

An Integral Part to Greek Civilization

Mountainous Greece tells a different story. The Greeks built great aqueducts to bring fresh water to the city, arguably making the fountain one of the reasons for the civilization’s prosperity and growth. In fact, in the 6th century BC, freshwater rivers and streams flowed into Athen’s city center. Furthermore, the fountain Enneacrounos had nine large spouts which supplied drinking water to the residents. The Greeks are also likely to have invented the “spout,” an essential part of many fountains today.

Rome’s Love Affair with its Water Fountains

Rome can take the credit for the widespread fascination and use of fountains. Just like with Greece and Assyria, however, it was all about access to fresh drinking water.

Lead pipes under the City of Fountains were the vessels that brought flowing water upon basins. These fountains were the populated city’s way of accessing fresh water. In 98 AD alone, historians estimate that about 98 aqueducts connected Rome. Thirty-nine fountains were monumental while 591 public basins mushroomed in the city.

It was here that fountains transitioned from their functional origins to serve a more aesthetic role.

Aquaphilia Today

Moving water is a beautiful sight. It is cooling, invokes a need for life, and is a sign of plenty. This is why, from simple sprouts, impressive sculptures animated by water emerged, which is especially true for the Baroque period. Here, the impressive forms in the carvings come to life through the movement of water.

Modern water fountains still pay homage to history. Technology such as lighting and water pumps have emerged but the element that makes fountains run remain the same.