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Fountain of the Nymph

Attraction, Bologna

Fountain of the Nymph: Attraction informations

The Fountain of the Nymph in Bologna decorates the imposing flight of steps that reaches into the Montagnola Park, the very first public park established in the city centre. The staircase was designed by Tito Azzolini and Attilio Muggia, the latter also designer of the new Synagogue. It is embellished with different bas-reliefs by several artists and among them it is easy to recognize on the first level Bononia docet and Bononia Libertas.

The stairway rises over the remains of the papal fortress, built 4 times by the papal state and destroyed 4 times by the Bolognese citizens. This old construction, of which we can see traces in front of the fountain, was in the old times richly decorated by renowned artists like Giotto. Unfortunately, his artwork has disappeared with the fortress’ demolition.

Another part of this ancient building is still found in the underground of the Hotel I Portici, the old ice-house, incorporated in its luxurious restaurant.

The entrance to the Montagnola park was inaugurated in 1896, once the works of the enlargement of via dell’Indipendenza, new main road between the new train station and Piazza Maggiore, were completed.

The main sculpture of the stairway is the Fountain of the Nymph by Diego Sarti. The nymph can be seen right in the middle of a big basin, surrounded by sea-shells richly decorated with mermaids and angels. The heart of this scene is the nymph who, desperately grabbing the horse’s mane, tries to escape from a sea monster. The Nymph’s nudity and sensuality has caused the Bolognese collective imagination to link the construction of this statue to the one of another famous fountain, the unmistakable Fountain of Neptune.

The link between them goes back to the moment in which the almost-finished statue of Neptune was presented to Pier Donato Cesi, papal legate in Bologna. Although extremely satisfied with the result, the legate admonished the author of the statue, Giambologna, for having been exaggeratedly generous with the virile features of Neptune, and apparently asked him to diminish their size. A thoroughly annoyed Giambologna did as asked; since then the Bolognese, always eager for a bit of fun, have maintained that the Nymph is clearly trying to escape the “too-small” dimensions of the Neptune’s attributes, her husband and companion.

Following the gossip and even promoting it, Giosuè Carducci, renowned professor at the University of Bologna, dedicated a poem to the Fountain of the Nymph with the following words:

"...Ahi mio re! la tua carezza / Chiedo in van, son tratta giù: / E fu in van la mia bellezza / Com'è in van la tua virtù".