FOUNTAINS

Once upon a time it became the fancy for many of the ruling class in Europe to include concealed fountains, controllable at a distance in their ornamental gardens.  Seats became flooded, grottoes became showers, trees sprouted a shower of water, water jets would spring up under ladies dresses and statues would spray passing visitors from their body parts… including (the statues’) private parts. These amusing “joke fountains” were used to provide entertainment for the visitors and guests at significant estates and castles.

Water had originally been used in Rome within sculpture as a way to animate these allegorical figures. This evolved as fountains created in medieval times (overflows from spring-heads) were in the shape of an animal heads spouting water. (Windsor Castle had a stone fountain on its grounds in the mid 1200’s). A popular feature of the Italian Renaissance garden (including Villa d’Este) was these hidden fountains, which could be turned on to drench unsuspecting visitors.

Among the fountains of Peterhoff Palace, one of Russia’s most famous tourist attractions a joke fountain was constructed -- one which sprays passers-by who step on a particular paving stone. The Palace is sometimes referred to as the Russian Versailles, built and primarily designed by Peter the Great, beginning in 1714. Peter had visited the Garden of Versailles and had been so impressed by the fountains there that he was inspired to make the fountains in the same cascading style.  Subsequent Russian rulers and regimes had augmented it up until the Second World War when the German Army essentially destroyed it. Thankfully, restoration work began immediately after the war, and continues today where it has become a UNESCO World heritage site.
The Bench Fountain - walking on the cobblestones initiates the spray of water
images: flicker.com

The water for the Peterhoff fountains is drawn from springs and aqueducts at a higher elevation, thereby creating the technological achievement of eliminating the need for pumps by the use of a gravity fed system!  All the fountains run simultaneously. As a contrast… there were so many fountains at Versailles that it was impossible to have them all running at once; when Louis XIV made his promenades, his fountain-tenders turned on the fountains ahead of him and turned off those behind him. “Louis built an enormous pumping station, the Machine de Marly, with fourteen water wheels and 253 pumps to raise the water three hundred feet from the River Seine, and even attempted to divert the River Éire to provide water for his fountains, but the water supply was never enough.”1

Young Princess Victoria, who was to become Queen of England, was particularly fond of the artificial willow tree at Chatsworth Gardens, originally created by William Cavendish in 1693. Cavendish hired Grillet, a pupil of Andre LeNotre to design it.  It was composed of 8,000 pieces of copper and brass and had 800 jets of water hidden in the branches and leaves. Supposedly, it would spurt into life squirting water from every branch and leaf over the unsuspecting passer-by. To be soaked to the skin in the early 1700s was generally no laughing matter, as fine clothes were very expensive and not usually washable.
Spouting Willow 
image:www.linklux.com/rosemaryvereyfavourites.htm


Was that anyway to treat your guests?


1.Robert W. Berger, The Chateau of Louis XIV, University Park, PA. 1985, and Gerald van der Kemp, Versailles, New York, 1978