Neptune's Fountain Unveiled: 5 Surprising Secrets about Bologna's Iconic Statue

Commissioned by a Pope. Designed by an architect. Created by a Belgian artist.
The Fountain of Neptune is one of the symbols of Bologna.
​Here are 5 curious stories that are hard to find on your pocket Lonely Planet.

1. Why not in Piazza Maggiore?

Originally Neptune Fountain should have been set in the centre of Piazza Maggiore.
During the '500 century, Piazza Maggiore was a noisy open-air food market (that's why we start all our food tours in Bologna there).

Sometimes the Crescentone, the thicker step in the middle of the square that takes its name from a typical bread, became a theatrical setting or a sports field. Once it was even used as a naval battlefield, with a big swimming pool in the middle, and also today it becomes an open-air cinema every summer.

​For all these reasons Piazza Maggiore wasn't the right stage to exhibit the giant: he found his place just next door, with all the lights on him.

2. The Neptune represents the Pope

For about 300 years Bologna was controlled by the Pope.
You can tell it by walking through churches and monasteries or looking at the statue on Palazzo D'Accursio. But also Neptune statue has a deep relationship with the head of the Catholic Church.

In 1563 Pio IV became Pope. To assert his power over Bologna and take back the reins of the city, he conceived a symbol.
An imposing and severe God, with his left hand calming the waters beneath him, controls the rebel Bolognese people and brings water to the city.

As Neptune dominates the waters, so the Pope dominates the world.
Neptune's fountain detail [Photo: Jim Moran]

3. Get a different perspective from the stone of shame

Sometimes prohibition develops wit. For sure Giambologna, sculptor of the Neptune didn't lack that.

The Belgian artist wanted to give Neptune a more manly look, far from the rigorous dictates of the Catholic Church. So he did with a clever expedient.

To see his trick just look for a darker stone, called Pietra della Vergogna (the stone of shame), just behind the statue.
​Standing on that point, God looks powerful in every way.
Neptune's trident used by Maserati [Photo: Paolo Turini]

4. Neptune’s trident for Maserati

Bologna isn't only the city of food. Outside the city walls, you find some of the best car and motorcycle producers like Ferrari, Lamborghini and Ducati.

Maserati is a luxury car brand born in Bologna, in a small garage near the Basilica of Santo Stefano, where on the walls you can still see some of the first design projects.

Mario Maserati, one of the founders' brothers, created the company logo inspired by Neptune's trident, which he precisely reproduced. Since 1926, when their first car 'Tipo 26' started to run, the trident proudly stands on every model.
Bologna Neptune's fountain with Palazzo Re Enzo [Photo: Matt Brennan]

5. There isn't just one Neptune

As Amelie's famous garden gnome travels the world, the Neptune isn't just set in Bologna.
Bolognese travellers will be happy to find 3 copies of Neptune scattered around the world.

The first is in Brussels, next to where his original sculptor Giambologna was born and was commissioned by the King of Belgium Leopold II.

The second is all covered with gold and is set in Batumi, Georgia, on the Black Sea.

The last copy is in California, on the beach between Long Beach and San Diego. A perfect location to dominate the Ocean.

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