Paris has found a myriad of ways to deliver water to her citizens in public spaces, and every fountain, cascade, and spout has its own story and personality. Below are some of them, in rough chronological order of their creation.
Fontaine des Innocents
The Renaissance-style Fontaine des Innocents sits on a large square, formerly the site of the overcrowded medieval cemetery of the Saints-Innocents.
To the horror of Parisians, the bodies of the cemetery, buried one on top of the other, became so heavy that they crashed into the walls of adjacent cellars. To solve the problems created by city cemeteries, the skeletal remains of millions were exhumed and relocated to a subterranean limestone quarry on the Left Bank. These bones, of course, form the decorative ossuary of the Catacombes.
During Haussmann redo of Paris, Fontaine des Innocents was moved to the square, which is now mostly empty except for the crumbling monument.
But I realize I haven’t said anything about the fountain itself. It’s a Renaissance beauty — not to get overly technical, but a real Romeo and Juliet trysting place. I hope someday the City of Paris will restore it. The world needs their children.
Octagonal pond with putti fountain, Jardin du Luxembourg
Jardin du Luxembourg’s landmark octagonal pond was built for Marie de’ Medici, widow of Henri IV. Now it’s a public pond where adults forever unwind and children eternally navigate toy sailboats.
Medici Fountain, Jardin du Luxembourg
Fontaine des Quatre Saisons
The colossal edifice of Fontaine des Quatre Saisons is absurdly disproportionate to the tiny mascarons dispensing water in trickles (see the two to the right of the couple above).
The water-spouts near the ground are easy to miss amid the dry grandiosity towering above them.
At the time of the fountain’s construction, Voltaire complained:
A fine piece of architecture, but what kind of fountain has only two faucets where the water porters will come to fill their buckets?
Installed 1745, during the reign of Louis XV.
Fontaine du Fellah
The Egyptian-influenced Fontaine du Fellah is one of several Parisian public fountains commemorating Napoleon’s military campaigns:
Above the fellah (peasant), an eagle spreads its wings, symbolizing Napoleon’s power over the conquered people.
Below the fellah is mounted a mascaron of a lion’s head — but to me, it resembles a death’s head. An unpleasant lion, in any case.
Napoleon’s Fontaine du Fellah was a copy of an ancient statue. Not Egyptian, but Roman. Antinous, a favourite of Emperor Hadrian, donned an Osiris costume and modeled for the sculpture. So Napoleon’s fellah is an imitation of an imitation. Exoticism twice removed. Still, he carries Napoleon’s water.
However . . . do I see a hint of irony in the Archaic smile playing about the lips of this fellah?
Fontaine du Palmier
The phallic triumphal column of Fontaine du Palmier presents a more ambitious monument to Napoleon I’s military adventures:
The victory column echoes Roman antecedents. Napoleon III added sphinxes to the base, all the rage in Paris since his uncle’s conquest of Egypt.
Fontaine Charlemagne checks the boxes of fountain tropes: putto inside vaulted niche hoists giant clamshell and slouches in basin supported by dolphins.
It was installed in 1840, the same year as the similarly-styled monumental fountains of the Place de la Concorde. This one is putto-sized.
Fontaine Charlemagne is located next to Lycée Charlemagne on Rue Charlemagne. A triple eponym in one spot.
The enormous Fontaine St-Michel was an Haussmannian project designed to cover the end of a building. A proposal to include a statue of Napoleon Bonaparte was nixed in favour of the Archangel slaying Satan.
The reddish marble columns upstage even the drama of the archangel: their unusual colour makes a big statement in a city awash in cream-grey limestone and patinated bronze. But the red marble with white veins is patriotic if not Parisian: it originates from the Languedoc region.
Raban Maur, medieval monk-scholar, described the marble as a mixture of foam and blood. Fooey.
The allegorical fountains of Square Émile-Chautemps
The modest but fetching Haussmanian fountains of Square Émile-Chautemps consist of allegorical figures. Below: Agriculture and Industry.
Three little lion’s-head mascarons spout water into drains at Fontaine Sainte-Geneviève.
Nice shade of blue.
Fountain of the Four Corners of the World
Located in Jardin Marco Polo, the Fountain of the Four Corners of the World was created for Haussmann’s urban reconstruction:
One critic described the dynamic female nudes representing the cardinal points as “wild” and “vulgar.”
Below, a friendly Wallace Fountain. Designed and financed by British philanthropist Richard Wallace, these dark green fountains provided clean drinking water to Parisians following the devastation of the city during the Franco-Prussian War (1870).
The monumental Fontaine Saint-Sulpice looms in the background.
In recent years, the commonplace green of the Wallace Fountains has been updated. Below, a canary yellow Wallace Fountain offers a drink on the campus of Diderot University
Nancy Rubins’ Monochrome for Paris, made of canoes, explodes in the background.
A periwinkle blue Wallace Fountain:
Delacroix Fountain, Jardin du Luxembourg
Fountain across from Mosquée de Paris
Below, the pretty Hispano-Moresque fountain of mosaic tiles and marble sounds a sympathetic vibration with the Mosquée de Paris across the street.
A waterfall from the 1937 Paris Exposition
The monumental waterfall below survives from the 1937 Paris Exposition. Parc Kellermann was later created around it.
As I stood at the bottom of the waterfall, I looked up and saw a man standing tall on the parapet above. I snapped the photo, he grinned, and I smiled back. It was a moment of comradery.
The waterfall, however, hasn’t aged well.
Like a cool drink of water, the Fontaine Souham with its shiny steel half-spheres beckons the passerby.
Niki de Saint Phalle’s colourful Death and Firebird sharply contrast with Jean Tinguely’s black metal contraptions in celebrated Fontaine Stravinsky. The water-spouting sculptures are motorized.
Stravinsky Fountain and the Columns of Buren were both part of a 1980s public art initiative by the City of Paris.
Ice floes buckling at Place du Québec
The sidewalk at Place du Québec erupts to reveal an underground fountain. The artist intended the work to represent the springtime breakup of ice sheets on St. Lawrence River.
The fountain of Jardin Vercingétorix-Brune
Forlorn, dry, and surrounded by overgrown weeds and artless graffiti, the little fountain of Jardin Vercingétorix-Brune has seen better days. Fountain and park are slated for renovation in 2020.
This sadly playful (playfully sad?) mosaic fountain is dedicated to French sculptor Maillol. It deteriorates at its location along Passage Aristide Maillol. Like the fountain of Jardin Vercingétorix-Brune, it needs some TLC.
A leaf for James Joyce
Leaf-shaped drinking fountain in Square James Joyce:
I’m not sure whether the tonic leaf is associated with Joyce, but the following passage from Finnegans Wake could make it so:
My leaves have drifted from me. All. But one clings still. I’ll bear it on me. To remind me of. Lff!
“Rubin’s vase” fountain, Place de la Garenne
In 2000, the Paris water management company sponsored a competition for the design of new public drinking fountains to be called “Millennial Fountains.” The winning fountain below is based on the idea of an optical illusion called “Rubin’s vase,” in which the viewer alternately sees either a vase or two faces in profile.
The use of the female form for this public water source resonates with the caryatids of the Wallace Fountains.
The salamanders of the Bièvre River
Lovable Salamanders of the Bièvre inhabit parks that generally follow the course of the now-subterranean river. The one below is located in Square Paul Grimault.
Potable salamander spit: