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Fountain of Neptune

This intriguing work of art is one of the most well-known symbols of Bologna and an important public gathering place.

The Fountain of Neptune dominates Piazza del Nettuno and at first glance, it is immediately obvious why locals have nicknamed it “il Gigante” (the Giant). A popular hangout and busy tourist attraction, the fountain is an interesting place to stop for a break and enjoy some people-watching. 

The fountain was commissioned to celebrate the appointment of Pope Pius IV and created in the 16th century by Flemish sculptor Giambologna. Giambologna is now considered to be one of the finest sculptors of the Mannerist period, second only to Michelangelo. 

Take a look at the centerpiece of this wonderful statue, a depiction of Neptune reaching out regally to calm the waters around him. Giambologna wanted to sculpt Neptune with larger genitalia, but the church opposed this design. The sculptor complied with the church’s request and instead incorporated a mischievous display of defiance into the fountain. Stand near the Sala Borsa library and as you look at Neptune’s outstretched hand from behind, you’ll see that his thumb lines up with his groin to create the impression of an erect penis.

Notice the square base on which Neptune stands. The four corners of the base are said to represent the four cardinal directions. It’s hard to miss the mermaids lounging around the base of the statue, spurting water from their breasts. Look at the cherubs on the corners, which symbolize the four major rivers known at the time: the Amazon, the Nile, the Danube and the Ganges. Check out the inscription on the base which reads “to serve the people”, reflecting the fountain’s purpose of making the square more beautiful for local citizens. 

You might see students walking around the circumference of the fountain twice. According to locals, walking counter-clockwise around the fountain just before an exam is believed to bring good luck. 

The Fountain of Neptune is located in Piazza del Nettuna, adjacent to Piazza Maggiore. It’s best to visit early in the morning if you want to avoid the crowds.


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