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Rome’s ‘Talking’ Baboon Fountain

Er Babuino – The baboon

Rome is famous for its marvelous fountains, but there is one that doesn’t shine for beauty, and it is the “Fontana del Babuino” – “The Baboon Fountain”, in Via del Babuino. The history of the fountain dates back to 1571 when the merchant Alexander the Great from Ferrara built a pubic fountain at his own expense. in exchange for donating the fountain to the city and according to customary practice in those days, Pope Pius IV granted free water supply directly into Alexander’s Palace. The plan was to build a large marble tub made from African marble. As decoration for the tub it was decided to place a statue of a life-size Silenus: half man, half goat. (Silenus was the drunken companion of Dionysus) For his ugliness, the statue was immediately nicknamed “er babuino” (the baboon) by the Romans who loved and related with it Immediately. It was such a common name that even the name of the street itself was changed from Via Paolina Trifana to Via Del Babuino. Silenus fame was even increased for a rather funny habbit of Cardinal Dezza, who lived nearby: every time he passed by the baboon he would bow and lift his hat for the amusment of nearby people. the poor cardinal must have mistaken the statue for some Holy but this gesture gave great publicity to Silenus that began to be a symbol. During the 16th century the babuino became famouse for the Pasquinades (anonymous messages containing fierce satirical criticism, poking fun at public figures). the ones written behind the babuino were actualy called “babuinate”, but the principle of satirical criticism remained the same. For this reason, this statue, along with that of Porter, Pasquino, Madama Lucrezia and Abbot Luigi joined the “Congress of the Witty” a body of talking statues that gave voice to the Romans. This tradition of political critisism continued as graffiti in modern times. until the year 2000 the wall behind the fountain was covered with thousands of graffiti to the extent that the fountain was considered an eyesore rather than an asset to the city. nobody though wrote on the babuino itself. Recently, the wall has been painted with an anti-vandal paint, to prevent the graffiti reappearing. In 1738 the statue was moved across the street, in front of a new building inside a large niche shaped as a false doorway of the building. In 1887, for reasons of practicability, the fountain was split: the tank was moved to Via Flaminia at the entrance of Via Giulia, and the popular Silenus was moved inside the courtyard of the building, as a statue. In 1957 Roman citizens demanded to return it to its rightful place, so The city found a rectangular basin that could suit the old sylenus, who was finally given back his original role and place, almost on the same spot where his story started.The Babuino Fountain can be found in Via del Babuino 49, Rome.

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