Tag Archives: Fontaine du Fellah

Paris Wanderlust: Fountains


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 Saints-Innocents, an overcrowded medieval cemetery.

Architect: Pierre Lescot; sculptor: Jean Goujon. 1540. Place Joachim-du-Bellay (1er)

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 it’s a real Romeo and Juliet trysting place. I hope someday the City of Paris will restore it. The world needs the lovers’ children.

Octagonal pond with putti fountain, Jardin du Luxembourg

view from Tour Montparnasse

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.

1630s? (6e)

Medici Fountain, Jardin du Luxembourg

Fontaine des Quatre Saisons

Fontaine des Quatre Saisons (1745). 57-59 rue de Grenelle (7e)

The colossal edifice of Fontaine des Quatre Saisons seems 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 during the reign of Louis XV, 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?

Fontaine du Fellah

The Egyptian-influenced Fontaine du Fellah is one of several Parisian public fountains commemorating Napoleon’s military campaigns:

52 Rue de Sèvres, next to Metro Vaneau (1806) ( 7e)

Above the fellah (Egyptian 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:

Place du Châtelet (1e)

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

Fontaine Charlemagne checks the boxes of fountain tropes: putto inside vaulted niche hoists giant clamshell and slouches in basin supported by dolphins.

(1840) (4e)

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.

Fontaine St-Michel

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.

Gabriel Davioud, Fontaine St-Michel (1858-1860) (6e)

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.

Boulevard Sébastopo (1860) (3e)

Fontaine Sainte-Geneviève

Three little lion’s-head mascarons spout water into drains at Fontaine Sainte-Geneviève.

Nice shade of blue.

Placette Jacqueline-de-Romilly, near the Panthéon, 1864 (5e)

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:

Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Fontaine des Quatre-Parties-du-Monde (1867-1874) (6e)

One critic described the dynamic female nudes representing the cardinal points as “wild” and “vulgar.”


Wallace Fountains

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).

Below: A Wallace Fountain with the monumental Fontaine Saint-Sulpice looming in the background.

Wallace Fountain, at Place St-Sulpice (1872) (6e)

In recent years, the commonplace green 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.

Esplanade Pierre Vidal-Naquet (13e)

A periwinkle blue Wallace Fountain:


Delacroix Fountain, Jardin du Luxembourg

Jules Dalou, Delacroix Fountain (installed 1890) (6e)

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.

Place du Puits-de-l’Ermite (1928) (5e)

A waterfall from the 1937 Paris Exposition

The monumental waterfall below survives from the 1937 Paris Exposition. Parc Kellermann was later created around it.


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.

Fontaine Souham

Like a cool drink of water, the Fontaine Souham with its shiny steel half-spheres beckons the passerby.

Sculptor: Alberto Guzmán, Fontaine Souham (1983). Jardin de la Place Souham (13e)

Fontaine Stravinsky

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.

Fontaine Stravinsky (1983), next to Centre Pompido (4e)

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.

Québecois artist Charles Daudelin, Embâcle (1984) (6e)

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.

Jardin Vercingétorix-Brune (1986), Boulevard Brune (14e)

Maillol Fountain

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.

Michel de Sablet, Maillol Fountain (1984); off Rue Falguière (15e)

A leaf for James Joyce

Leaf-shaped drinking fountain in Square James Joyce:

(1998) (13e)

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.

Véronique Vaster, Salamander of the Bièvre (2013) (13e)

Potable salamander spit:

Next: Old Friends at Père Lachaise Cemetery

Camille Martin