St. Peters Fountain

It must have been while engaged upon this pious work of reconstruction in the Vatican Hill that he came upon those springs that, for lack of a proper channel, had damaged the tombs upon the hillside and were threatening to undermine his great basilica (the first Church of St. Peter) within less than fifty years of its erection by Constantine. He drained the ground in the vicinity, building a small aqueduct, neatly in the old Roman style of masonry, to lead these unshepherded waters to definite localities where they could be a benefit and not a danger to their surroundings. The water thus collected is called the Acqua Damasiana, and to this day the private apartments of the Pope are supplied from this source. The feeding springs of this water are located at Sant Antonio, to the west of the church, and the aqueduct of Pope Damasus lies at a depth of ninety-eight feet. Pope Damasus himself describes this in the poem which was discovered in 1607, more than twelve hundred years later, by Pope Paul V.

Pope Damasus says: The Hill (Vatican Hill) was abundant in springs, and the water found its way to the very graves of the saints. Pope Damasus determined to check the evil. He caused a large portion of the Vatican Hill to be cut away, and by excavating channels and boring cuniculi he drained the springs so as to make the basilica dry and also to provide it with a steady fountain of excellent water. Of this steady fountain there is no description, and therefore the fountain of Pope Symmachus (498-514) becomes the first fountain recorded in the history of St. Peters.

Pope Symmachus was a Corsican. He evidently had a passion for building every kind of structure connected with water as a cleanser and as a beautifier of mans civic life. His fountain, built at a time when civilization and art in Rome were at a low ebb, was a quaint and exquisite structure, composed of a square tabernacle supported by eight columns of red porphyry with a dome of gilt bronze. Peacocks, dolphins, and flowers, also of gilt bronze, were placed on the four architraves, from which jets of water flowed into the basin below. The border of the basin was made of ancient marble basreliefs, representing panoplies, griffins, and other graceful devices.

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