Orions Fountain

Fontana di Orione (Orion’s Fountain) is a monument located in Piazza Duomo in Messina. It is one of two decorative fountains made by the sculptor Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli, commissioned by the Senate of Messina. The piece was inspired by the myth of Orion who, according to one of the many existing versions, is said to have founded the city of Messina. Art historian, Bernard Berenson, called the Fontana di Orione “the most beautiful 16th-century fountain in Europe”.

History of the Fontana di Orione

The Fontana di Orione was commissioned by the Senate of Messina to celebrate the completion of the city’s first aqueduct. In 1547, the architect, Francesco La Cameola, diverted the waters of the Camaro stream into a small spring upon which the fountain was then built in 1553. Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli’s design takes the form of a pyramid and consists of three overlapping basins. Formerly a pupil of Michelangelo, the Florentine sculptor used marble from Carrara and engaged the services of numerous local sculptors. The Fontana di Orione has a twelve-sided base and is decorated with embodiments of four rivers: the Nile, the Tiber, the Ebro (in homage to the House of Aragon) and the Camaro, a city stream. At the centre, we find a block where four kneeling mermen support a second circular and richly decorated basin. From the centre of this second basin, four Naiads support a third circular dish. Here, a group of cherubs riding on dolphins hold a sphere, on which the statue of Orion with his dog Sirius stands. The Senate of Messina was so impressed by this masterpiece that it decided to commission Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli to build a second fountain, that of Neptune.

The myth of Orion and the city of Messina

The decision to dedicate the fountain to such an unusual subject as Orion was suggested to Montorsoli by Francesco Maurolico. The Messina-born mathematician and scholar also wrote the Latin couplets that can be found under each representation of the four rivers. In Greek mythology, Orion was a giant and the son of Poseidon and Euryale, the daughter of Minos, King of Crete. In Roman mythology, however, Orion was a giant who was formed from the urine of Jupiter, Neptune and Mercury. In some versions of the myth, the giant is closely linked to the city of Messina. According to Diodorus Siculus, Orion helped King Zanclus (Zancle being the ancient name for the city of Messina), to build the city’s port. According to Hesiod, however, the giant moved a large amount of earth around the city’s harbour in order to protect it from the frequent storms that hit Messina’s coast. The embankment he created became Capo Peloro, the northern tip of Sicily, where one of the city’s most beautiful beaches is located today. Also according to Hesiod, Orion built a temple dedicated to Neptune on this spot.

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