La Fonte dei Canali

The Fountain ‘of the Canals’  


The Fountain ‘of the Canals’ is a source of water that has been shown, in recent studies, to come from the Massoncello, the highest hill (286 meters) of the Piombino promontory. The water of the ‘Canals’ supplied the town from its inception until 1925, when the local water mains was put into operation.

The monumental fountain was built by the Republic of Pisa in 1248, as stated in the central inscription bearing the name of Ugolino Assopardi, a Pisan captain in charge of Piombino, Elba and Baratti. The elevation, up to a certain point, is made of Alberese limestone, then continuing upwards with simple mortar. The numerous crests seen under the overhanging console of the elevation do not give any indication of their lineage, but it is assumed that they refer to Captain Assopardi. On the sides of the brackets at the top lie two marble coats of arms: the one on the left depicts Jacopo Appiani IV; the other is almost illegible, but the heraldry of the Appiani is distinguishable. Between the first and second zoomorphic heads are two snakes joined by the head, as if about to bite, carved in a draft of limestone. Ancient belief says that the reproduction of these water snakes occurred by the union of their mouths.  Perhaps the stonemason wanted to pass on the ancient name of this fountain that is still remembered today: ‘The Fountain of Snakes in Love’.


The water that seeps through the soil is collected in a tank placed behind the facade on the left side of the visitor. After decantation to remove impurities, the water overflows into the second tank through an opening at the top that is joined to the gable. Here the water is purified and pours out of what were originally five mouths. One of these deteriorated in the late nineteenth century because coopers forced their wooden artefacts under the mouths in order to reduce them and banged the mouths repeatedly, thus damaging the marble.

The zoomorphic mouths (one horse and three mastiffs) are an early work by Nicola Pisano, as shown by the careful study of different medieval art historians. The mouths in use today are duplicates. Because of their high artistic value, the originals are displayed at the Museum of Medieval Ceramics in the Castle in a recreation that evokes their original marina location in images and sounds.

At the centre of the Fountain, two fragments show sixteenth-century restoration while above, a framework carved by Andrea di Francesco Guardi in 1470 represents the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  These are also duplicates: the originals are preserved in the Museo Civico-Diocesano della Concattedrale di Sant’Antimo Martire (Civic-Diocesan Museum of the Co-Cathedral of St. Antimo Martyr).