Monday, September 24, 2007

L'Acqua Felice: The Terminus to Rome's Thousand-Year Draught

Joel Kramer
Honors in Rome - Summer 2007

Terminus of Acqua Felice

Creator and Creation
In the time of the Empire, 11 aqueducts amply fed the city of Rome's 1,212 public fountains, 11 imperial thermae, and 926 public baths (Morton 31); with this consistent supply the metropolis had no need for water storage. When the Goths ravaged the last of the aqueducts in 537 A.D. the city had already been floundering for several hundred years (55). Following that loss, a trickle from the Acqua Verine became the sole external supply of water for the populace for one thousand years. During that period, Rome's then severed population gathered around the few bends in the Tiber river, where the surface area was greatest.
The waters of Rome returned when in 1585, Pope Sixtus V commanded the completion of a new aqueduct within one and one half years (117). The thousand year wait was trying indeed. Such a monumental restoration project at such a rapid pace as Sixtus' was not fit for average abilities: Sixtus' successor, Pope Gregory VIII only went so far as to propose the project (117).
Sixtus V (1521-1590), originally Felice Peretti, came from poor roots (117). As a young shepherd he taught himself the basics of reading. His intellect recruited him to the church and when he was elected to the papacy in 1585 at age 64, he was full of determination, described as "autocratic and irascible like Julius II" (Majanlahti 172). With this motivation, ne was named after Sixtus IV, the same that restored the Acqua Vergine a century earlier. His building plans were just as, if not more ambitious: Sixtus V restored the ancient Acqua Alexandrina to the modern Acqua Felice, repaired the Quirinal Palace (Morton 175), completed the dome at St. Peters (Wikipedia) and erected four obelisks around the city (Majanlahti 174) among a horde of other projects. These extensive plans for the city were executed with the constant aid of his prized architect Domenico Fontana (1543-1607).

To achieve construct his legacy during the limits of his lifetime Sixtus had to be commanding, strict and without remorse or hesitation for punishment. Upon entering the papacy, the new pope was asked the sentence of the current prisoners, and his reply was that "while I live, every criminal must die" (Majanlahti 172). That summer the criminals' heads staked on the Ponte S. Angelo were "more numerous than melons in the market" (172).

The Acqua Felice was planned to lead 15 miles from the swamps at the Pontano Borghese on the back of the old ancient Acqua Alexandrina (Morton 120), in the process draining the swamps for agricultural use. With the same obsessive pace as his criminal campaign, the aqueduct was completed in one year. However, under the strain of the papal taskmaster, the first engineer was unable to create a level flow (119). At this point, Fontana took over and leveled the grade within six months (119). The long wait was over, and the now watered city ready to thrive.

Design by Fontana
Most of the visual manipulation of the Terminus at the Fountain of Moses can be explained through the direct propaganda at the end of the monument's inscription which explains: Sixtus V was responsible for this aqueduct which has water from the springs near Colonna, brought through Prenestina, is of a certain length and is named Acqua Felice after the Pope's original name (Virtual Roma). In common Italian, felice translates to 'happy'. It is a subtle yet precise alteration. By naming the fountain 'Felice', rather than after his papal name, Sixtus not only appears as modest, but he labels the fountain as a thirst quencher, a bringer of happiness to the people of Rome. In doing so on his project he simultaneously attributes those qualities to himself. This same shrewd method was used to name a street, the Strada Felice, and a bridge commanded by the Pope among other public works (Majanlahti 172).

The effect of this glorification is enhanced through the poignant revival of the Roman Triumphal arch (Morton 127). Domenica Fontana cleverly portrayed Sixtus V as an unusually generous and fruitful pope. What was once used in the days of ancient Rome to guide a victorious army and its spoils of war back to the Roman populace now welcomed the waters of the Acqua Felice through this triumph after its fifteen mile voyage from the Pantano Borghese and was gallantly distributed to the people of Rome.

Also a symbol of gathering and distribution, the fountain is laiden with scallop shells, signifying the great pilgrimage (Crull) that this water took to reach the terminus as those pilgrims to the Vatican did. The lines of the shell converge on the single crest of the wave, representative of the force of God that brought them this distance (Crull). Pilgrims brought these shells to the fountain to scoop up the water of the Felice as they neared the Vatican (Crull).
In this religious fashion, the Roman citizens receiving the water are tied to characters in the biblical scenes on the monument's reliefs. On the left, Aaron brings water to the wandering Hebrews (Virtual Roma). The right side is debated, as the fountain was finished in such haste, but is presumed to be the story of Gideon as he chooses soldiers by the way they drink (Virtual Roma).  
At the center, a statue of Moses portrays the leader drawing water from a rock in the desert (Virtual Roma).

The statue of Moses is the most clear sign that Sixtus' project was indeed rushed. In this prominent feature of the monument, the sculpture holds the tablets of law, but is inaccurate as at this point in the bible Moses did not yet have possession of them (Ostrow 272).

The story is but one minor reason for this statue receiving four centuries of constant criticism. The foundation for this began when Giovanni Baglione wrote a biography on Prospero Bresciano, one of the Moses' sculptors, and therein laid out a ream of skewed facts for critics to come (283). And yet, even at the unveiling, the statue was not well received. At this point in the history of Western art, proportion was meant to resemble reality, to a divine degree; disproportionate design was utter failure (280). In addition, the statue was bombarded by constant comparison to Michelangelo's stunning Moses from 40 years before, the critical barrage of Tuscan writers in support of the Florentine Buonarotti (275), and the frightening man in charge: Sixtus V Peretti.

For the critics, Moses' characterization is minimal, the coat ungraceful; the tablets are not a major feature, nor is his pose. But from these many viewers and points of pressure on the sculptors Bresciano and Leonardo Sormani, the collective target has been their proportional inabilities (278). A ridiculing pasquinade from the unveiling read that the sculptors had literally "lost their mind" (272).

In this era there existed an idealization of the human form that every statue should depict. The sculptor's duty was to recreate God's work. In accordance, the work of a Renaissance sculptor was defined by both measure and taste, Misure e Giudizio dell'occhio (278). The artist must capture physical proportionality, as well as the sense of beauty that only the eye can master. Without the support of accurate measurement, this piece was unable to portray actual beauty. The practiced model maker Bresciano and sculptor Sormani failed to achieve the idealization in the hastily carved Moses. Rather, it was a major disgrace when compared to Michelangelo's emotive rendition of the biblical figure (276). This Moses is considered an actual error (282) because it does not follow the laws of the time, the laws of proportion and perspective, the laws that consider the viewer's position as well as the sculpture itself.

However, while the sculpture fails to properly glorify Sixtus' achievement, direct symbols on the monument from the Pope's coat of arms laud the Pope more exactly. Felice Peretti, as he was originally called, assumed a crest with three pears, in reference to his surname, as well as a lion as a show of strength. Four lions therefore perch at the entrance to the fountain itself. They are docile, but firm in stature (130).

Because the aqueduct was finished before the fountain was, two black egyptian lions were moved to the monument from in front of the Pantheon. This was not an issue of historical significance for Sixtus as though he "loved building, he was no lover of antiquity" (Symonds 311). The two adjacent lions were rushed, carved from white marble (Garden Fountains). The Egyptian lions have now been replaced by more modern white marble designs (Morton 133).

The balustrade of the Acqua Felice was taken from elsewhere, still bearing the name of a Pope Pius V (1566-72) who preceded Sixtus (133). While Sixtus had greater priority for modern improvements than ancient structures, namely his own, he did hold respect for the styles created. As seen in the obelisks and the Egyptian lions, he held a fascination with the ancient world. This fascination is most visible in his erection of obelisks around the city (Symonds 312), an outstanding engineering feat that only a leader with specific interest in their meaning or significance would assume. For Sixtus this significance was a triumph over Paganism.

"Nothing was more absent from the mind of Sixtus than any attempt to reconcile Ancient and Modern. He was bent on proclaiming the ultimate triuph of Catholicism." (Symonds 312)

While obelisks are generally seen in Rome standing alone, Egyptian tradition placed two side by side at an entrance as symbols of rays of the sun. Here on the Fountain of Moses, two obelisks are visible, testifying to Sixtus' understanding and interest in the ancient tradition and his works with them around the city.

Effect of Aqueduct on Renaissance City
The Acqua Felice was of tremendous proportion for its time.

Several massive troughs line the front of the monument, each with a designated structural purpose, humans and their livestock all in consideration. However, the size was additionally meant to act as a display of Papal greatness; because the volume and pressure of the water flowing from this fountain was so far beyond than any other aqueduct or Terminus since ancient times (Garden Fountains), it truly glorified Sixtus's accomplishments in returning Rome to a state of stability.

The Felice's breadth of distribution was and continues to be exceptional. After its 15 mile journey to the Terminus in the outskirts of the old city, water was distributed as far as the Santa Maggiore, North to the Villa Medici, and to the heights of the Campidolgo at the fountain of Roma (Rinne). The left bank of the Tiber, however, did not receive any water from this aqueduct; the left bank's growth was therefore minimal until Pope Paul III built his equivalent, the Acqua Paola in 1608 (Morton). While other aqueducts have brought Lazian waters greater distances, the breadth of distribution throughout the city remains prolific today; this aqueduct was the source of revival of a vast amount of the withered city.

While Sixtus did distribute this coveted resource once it had reached the Fountain of Moses, it was siphoned preferentially to those people and locations in the Pope's favor. Pious organizations of his liking, including monasteries and cardinals, received water in the form of 'donations' (Rinne). Meanwhile, the extensive gardens of his nearby Quirinale palace and the Fontana del Quirinale received the largest amount of the Acqua Felice supply (Rinne). Aside from the public fountains that Sixtus himself created, the civil government was forced to buy a significant portion of the water with only a limited stipend of 100 oncie (Rinne).

The aqueduct's direct effect on the growth of the city is visible in the endeavors of the succeeding Pope Paul III. The Acqua Paulo of 1608, which was the second built since the time of the empire, came just twenty one years after the completion of the Acqua Felice (Morton 164).This competition for reputation and memory was a common drive among popes in commanding public works. However, in the case of supplying a material resource of water, as opposed to the more common religious monuments, the city was actually able to support a larger and more stable population. In the era of church reformation, these waters would be able to revive the capital of Catholicism.

Visible in maps from sixteenth century, Rome is a city wrapped around the folds of the Tiber, where the greatest surface area was available. What today is the city's periphery was then the location of country villas. The population beyond the Vatican was composed around "solitary little churches and monasteries which had managed to exist by virtue of an old well" (Morton 123). Sixteenth century Rome was wild without water.

Sixtus was therefore very proud of the effects of his aqueduct, and made sure his meetings with foreign dignitaries were held at sites where water from the Acqua Felice sprung. As a Sunday tradition, the 66-year-old Franciscan would walk from the Vatican to the top of the hill at his Quirinale Palace and down to his favorite church, Santa Maria Maggiore following mass (140). On his walk he would observe the buildings being constructed along the causeway of the Felice's fountains. Much of this construction on these initially rural areas was by his own persuasion, by providing tax exemptions and building material (140). Such neighbors of the Fountain of Moses include the Monte Cavallo Fountain, the Quattro Fontane and the Triton Fountain Piazza Barberini, and further off, the fountains on the Capitol (127). Also, for his own pleasure, the Quirinal Place now thrived with secret grottos and lavish foliated decor (142).

On the quiet country hill where the waters from Pontano Borghese were first collected now roars one of Rome's busiest intersections.

This literally loud success was not happenchance, the lucky break of one aqueduct by yet another hastily building Pope. Rather, aside from the fact that much of the the aqueduct was originally the Acqua Alexandrina (Virtual Roma) and the concept for the renewal was that of predecessor Pope Gregory VIII, propaganda effectively directed applause to Sixtus. The propaganda involved in the project, including name manipulation, the use of the Triumph and the display of the aqueduct to dignitaries all contributed to the widespread appreciation of the achievement. This propaganda-based success in turn contributed to the competition that soon after led to the construction of the Acqua Paolo.

Modern Day Acqua Felice
In comparison to ancient Rome's 11 aqueducts, today there are only 6 for the entire population of this seemingly boundless city (Morton 64). Five of these six is a restored aqueduct from one of those first 11; the work of the ancient Romans is continued by their modern counterparts. The city is still uniquely supported by a continuous flow as "no other city is served in a similar way" (Morton 65), though the need for water storage is finally being considered for the current population. Even the unit of measure, the oncia, is in use in the modern system:

"It is astonishing to hear a hydraulic engineer, while seated in the most modern of offices...pick up the telephone and discuss with a colleague the measurement of water in terms that would be comprehensible to an engineer of the XXth legion." (Morton 65-6)

The current organization in charge of Rome's water supply is Azienda Comunale Elettricitá ed Acque (ACEA). Following the lead of their predecessors, ACEA employs prideful propaganda to address their subjects, or customers. As part of the information they provide, ACEA includes programs on artistic lighting and community solidarity as part of the company . This closely resembles the attention to visual appearance and manipulation of the masses that the Senate, emperors and Renaissance Popes like Sixtus V Peretti employed.

Rome's bella figura of water is not only supported by the visual presentation of its fountains' sculptures. The presentation of taste follows ancient tradition as the waters from the different aqueducts remain unmixed, this "owing to the different characteristics and qualities carried by the various aqueducts" (Morton 65). With these specifications, the individual citizens, the users of the water, maintain the culture as well. As Morton approached one old Italian man filling up a pot with water at a fountain in the street, he was greeted with the response, "There is nothing better than the Acqua Vergine for boiling vegetables" (70). The waters of Rome remain the livelihood of its population, culture and legacy and are most likely a keystone to its future.

"ACEA for Rome." ACEA. Online. Sept 12 2007.

Crull, Kerry. "The Scallop Shell: Walking the Camino de Santiago". 14 Feb 2007. Other Spain. Online. 12 Sept 2007.

"Fontana Del Mose." Copyright 2007. Garden Fountains. Online. Sept 12 2007.

"The Fountains of the Acqua Felix." Virtual Roma. Online. 12 Sept 2007.

Majanlahti, Anthony. The Families Who Made Rome. London: Chatto and Windus, 2005.

Morton, H. V. The Waters of Rome. London: George Rainbird Ltd, 1966.

Ostrow, Steven F. "The Discourse of Failure in Seventeeth-Century Rome: Prospero Bresciano's Moses." The Art Bulletin 88 (2006): 267-291.

"Pope Sixtus V." 9 Sept 2007. Wikipedia. Online. Sept 12 2007.

Symonds, John A. Short History of the Renaissance in Italy. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1894.