The Mystery of L’Aquila’s Famous Fountain

La Fontana delle 99 CannelleMy very favourite place to visit in L’Aquila is arguably its most famous – but it’s so tucked away and so badly-signposted you get the feeling it’s a secret the city wants to keep all to itself.

La Fontana delle 99 Cannelle – ‘The Fountain of the 99 Spouts’ commemorates the 99 villages and 99 castles from which the original inhabitants of L’Aquila were gathered in the 13th century.

Placed at random - or for a purpose ?Records show the Fountain was completed in 1272 – then the mystery started. To this day, nobody knows the source of the ice-cold water that gushes from the 99 spouts.

The story goes that the architect – a certain Tancredi of Pentima – was executed because he refused to give up this secret. The story also goes that his body is buried somewhere within the Fountain’s boundaries.

Then the plot really starts to thicken. See the back wall ? Scratched into that – and everyone agrees that it was done a very long time ago – is a distinctive Knights Templar cross. Why is it there ? And what about the carved figureheads from which the water flows ? There are 93 of them (together with six plain spouts). The carvings represent men, women and animals. All are different. Many have wondered if they were placed at random – or in a set (and as yet undeciphered) order.On either side of each head - a red tile...

All those figureheads are separated by red tiles, continuing the chequerboard pattern of red and white stones on the walls.

...but why are there six white tiles ?I say ‘all’ the figureheads are separated by red tiles. But six aren’t. Six – random ? – figureheads are separated by white tiles. Why ? And why does just one of those tiles not have the flower motif that’s repeated around all three sides of the Fountain ?

And it’s not just the appearance of these six white tiles that have prompted questions. There are other tiles too, notably different from others, placed in prominent positions. What’s their significance ?

The history of the FountainJust two facts connected with this fascinating site are undisputed. The four corners of the Fountain area are in exact alignment with north, south, east and west. And a plaque high on the back wall gives not only the date of the original completion of the Fountain – but the dates of subsequent major renovations.

The appearance of the Knights Templar cross has led to a theories about whether La Fontana delle 99 Cannelle was used in initiation ceremonies. And if perhaps some code is locked into the strange and unexplained variations in the Fountain’s basic design and the undisputed numerical sequences contained in the tile and spout placements.  There’s been much pleasurable speculation – and even a couple of books – that have tried to provide answers.

Check out this great site for more (including how to locate the Knights Templar cross scratched into the back wall) – and check out The Fountain of the 99 Spouts for yourself if you decide to take time out from your Abruzzo villa for two and head off on a day trip to L’Aquila. Getting into La Fontana delle 99 Cannelle is free – and it’s always open.

We’ll take the guesswork out of finding it – and leave you to concentrate on deciphering for yourself the mystery of L’Aquila’s famous fountain !

(Click on pictures in text for larger images)


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