Pretoria Fountain

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The Fontana Pretoria (Pretoria Fountain), also known as the ‘Fountain of Shame’, is one of the undisputed symbols of Palermo. It was made by the sculptor, Francesco Camilliani, for a villa in Florence belonging to Viceroy Don Pedro Alvarez. The Senate of Palermo bought the statues from the Viceroy, who needed money to pay off his debts. The statues arrived in the city in 1574, in 644 separate pieces. Camillo Camilliani, Francesco’s son, created a new arrangement, giving the sculptures new meanings based on local myths and legends.

History of the Fontana Pretoria in Palermo

Most of the statues that make up Palermo’s Fontana Pretoria were made in 1554 by Francesco Camilliani for the Florentine villa of the Viceroy of Naples, Don Pedro Álvarez de Toledo y Zúñiga. When Louis Álvarez died in debt, his son decided to put it up for sale. It was purchased in 1573 by the Senate of Palermo with the aim of enhancing the square in front of the Palazzo Senatorio. The name Fontana Pretoria was taken from this palace, which was the seat of power and is now called Palazzo delle Aquile. The various statues arrived in Palermo by sea, in 644 separate pieces. The Senate of Palermo entrusted Camillo Camilliani, Francesco’s son, with the task of assembling the various sculptures, thus creating a unique composition. Piazza Pretoria was also enlarged to make room for the new structure by demolishing several buildings.

Interesting fact: Palermo’s Fontana Pretoria is also known as the Fountain of Shame. According to some, the origin of the name is due to the nudity of the statues it contains. According to another theory, it was rather its high cost that prompted the people of Palermo to call it that.

Architecture and meaning of the statues in the Fontana Pretoria

The composition created by Camillo Camilliani for Don Pedro Alvarez’s villa included 48 statues depicting mythological, allegorical and divine characters. When the sculptures were transferred to Palermo, his son, Francesco, not only had to create a unified composition designed for a public space, but also had to revise the meanings of the statues on the basis of local myths and symbols. In doing so, he was helped by the Monreale poet, Antonino Veneziano. So, for example, representations of the rivers Tiber, Mugnone, Africo and Arno became those of the Maredolce, Gabriele, Papireto and Oreto. The fountain’s structure is made up of a succession of ovals which, from the inside to the outside, vary in curvature, tending towards the perfect circular shape without ever reaching it. The main fountain, formed by three concentric basins, rises from the middle of the central basin. At the top is a statue of the Genio di Palermo (Genius of Palermo), a very ancient mythological figure and protector of the city.

Interesting fact: Many of the statues in the Fontana Pretoria have damaged noses. According to legend, this was done by the inhabitants of Messina, who were jealous of Palermo’s recognition as the capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Visit the interior of the Fountain of Shame

From a trapdoor, located under the marble balustrades of the fountain, it is possible to access an underground area where the complex of pipes feeding the Fontana Pretoria can be seen. To visit this area, it is necessary to contact the security personnel at the concierge desk of the nearby Palazzo delle Aquile, home to Palermo’s City Council. Visits are guided tours only and must be booked in advance.

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