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The Fountain of Shame, Palermo

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When you visit Palermo one of the first things to hit you in the old centre is the enormous fountain known as the Fountain of Shame. Locals will tell you it is so called because of the nudity on display. I don’t find this explanation convincing....

When you look at the fountain the first thing that you notice is the size. It is completely out of proportion with its setting and this is the first clue. The second incongruity is the subject matter; Greek gods, nymphs,  and animals cavorting are hardly appropriate for a site facing the town hall. So, in order to understand what we are looking at, we need to delve a little deeper.

This fountain was originally made for a grand garden in Florence and was commissioned by one Don Luigi de Toledo who was the brother of García Álvarez de Toledo, Viceroy of Sicily from 1564-66. It was much admired in its original setting but, unfortunately, Don Luigi hit hard times and in 1573 he needed to raise money and, conveniently, the city of Palermo decided to buy the fountain. It was duly dismantled and 644 pieces found their way to Palermo where, in order to make room for it, several buildings were demolished. Sadly, the records do not tell us how much Palermo paid for the statue but it is easy to see how the taxpayers of the city might have detected a whiff of corruption in this deal and cried foul.

So when you look at this wonderful fountain today try to imagine it in its original setting, in a garden surrounded by a long arbor formed by 90 wooden columns. It was then that Giorgio Vasari, the noted artist and historian, described the fountain as having no equal in Florence and maybe in all Italy. It is still magnificent today and all the more fascinating because of its history.

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