Alberto Belli

Alberto Belli

CEO and Content Creator of Bologna-Experience

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One more reason to visit Bologna: the fountain of Neptune


Do you want to know everything about Neptune’s fountain, its history and curiosities? Come with us to the discovery of Neptune’s fountain.

Where is Neptune’s fountain?

Neptune’s fountain, also known as “al Zigant” in dialect, is between the end of St. Ugo Bassi and the beginning of St. Rizzoli, in the middle of Neptune’s Square. It’s collocated in one of the most famous place of the city and it’s surrounded by works that are the symbol of Bologna: we can find on the right side of Neptune’s fountain, Palazzo del Podestà, Palazzo Re Enzo building of XIII century (1400 a.d.) which house many events, whereas behind Neptune’s fountain there’s Piazza Maggiore that hold one of the biggest Basilicas of the world, Basilica of S Petronio.

A few steps from the imposing fountain, you can not miss the slender Due Torri: read also Two Towers Bologna: the symbol of the city.

Neptune fountain

How is Neptune’s fountain?

Neptune’s fountain is one of the few in the city but it’s absolutely one of the illustrious. It was described by the critic of art Giulio Carlo Argan like a “knick-knack for the square”, characterised by being share into three big step where, at the base, we can find the Naiadi figures of the greak mythology that represents sea nymphs. At the centre we can notice some decorations, pontifical emblems and going up with the look, there are four Putti that symbolised Nilo’s river, Gange’s river, Rio’s river and Danubio’s river which represents the four parts of the world. 

At the top stands out, thanks to his size and magnificence, Neptune’s fountain, nicknamed as the “Giant” due to his tonnage that represents the sea’s god for the greak mythology. 

Do you know what the Seven Churches are? To find out, read the article on the Basilica of Santo Stefano: history and legends. Inside you can also visit the Crypt of Santo Stefano!

Where does the water of the Fountain of Neptune come from?

Neptune’s fountain was from Pier Donato Cesi commissioned, to thank the love and the appreciation of pope Pio IV, borned as Gian Pietro Carafa, to the artists of his pontificate. 

The work, that is in Neptune’s square, was created by Jean de Boulogne of Douai, also known as Giambologna, an artist of the florentine overview at the service of the grand duke Francesco dei Medici, and other artists like the bolognaise smelter Zanobio Portigiani and the architect Tommaso Laureti. 

Neptune fountain

Initially the Neptune’s fountain, finished at the end of the 1500, had a singular duct that provided water, coming from the spring Remonda, near the little hill San Michele in Bosco. Later this duct was not enough, so in 1563 the architect Tommaso Laureti builded the Conserva of Valverde, a system of interception and collection of water which provided more water, enough for the right functioning of Neptune’s fountain.

The restorations of Neptune’s fountain

During all its history, the Neptune’s fountain, was very often restored. 

In 1705 Bologna’s senate started to have care of the conservation of the monument and in 1762 the first significant interventions were made. 

Some iron was installed to support the work and the left leg of the Neptune was waterproofed. Over time, with the deterioration of Neptune’s fountain, the city hall decided, in 1888, to promote new works of restoration which were criticized by the conservatives of the fountain, due to the invasive method. Later, during the first world war, the Neptune’s fountain was placed on Palazzo d’Accursio until 1919. During the second world war was, Neptune’s fountain, removed once again due to the fear of new lesions and replaced in 1945.

The latest restorations are dated back to 2016 and they were made by the superior Institute for the conservation and for the restoration, led by the engineer Fabio Andreon. They renewed the hydraulic plant and the entire monument.  

Neptune fountain

The strange employments of Neptune’s fountain

The Neptune’s fountain was builded with the aim of adorn Neptune’s square which was nearly empty after the demolition of some little construction. Bolognaise citizens had other ideas.

Sure enough, Neptune’s fountain was rushed by merchants and laundresses of Piazza Maggiore and used for strange reasons like rinse the vegetables and to clean the laundry. Over time the situation degenerated and someone used Neptune’s fountain like urinal that caused the installation of an enclosure which was, after 200 years, in 1800 eliminated.

The meaning of Neptune’s posture

There’re lots of theories about Neptune’s posture. The most persuasive and plausible one, imagine a symbolic correlation between Neptune and pope Paolo IV. The statue is, indeed, with the left arm stretch represented. This position symbolized the supremacy of Neptune over the seas and oceans, like pope Paolo IV controlled and influenced the world in 1500.

Neptune fountain

What relationship is there between students and Neptune’s fountain?

It’s an important tradition for the bolognese people that the students, before an exam, have to turn around clockwise to the fountain to have luck. 

The myth said that also Giambologna did this thing, around the base of Neptune’s fountain thinking about the realization of Neptune, starting his luck.

Do you know that the University of Bologna is the oldest in the western world? Find out with us! Also a short walk from the university area, you will find the ancient Jewish ghetto of the city. Immerse yourself in the small colorful streets of this neighborhood that has kept the memory of historical events.

Why is there a fig’s leaf on Neptune’s fountain?

Being a work that creates astonishment and curiosity, at the beginning of 1700 for some representative of Bologna’s city hall, the nakedness of Neptune started to create disapproval to such an extent to apply a copper fig’s leaf on the “embarrassment”. Obviously no leaf was put on Neptune, quite the opposite the sculptor Giambologna was searching a method to realize bigger genitals not to create stir between the ecclesiastic authorities. To do this he created an expedient: the sculptor drew the statue in order to see the thumb coming out from the low belly.

Not knowing, the sculptor Giambologna invented one of the seven secrets of Bologna: a proof of this, is located on a black stone on the floor in front of Biblioteca Salaborsa also known as “shame”, from whom the sight is facilitated. 

Neptune fountain

Now it’s your turn! Do you want to rest your feets on the famous “stone of shame”? You just have to book your stay in Bologna!


  • Benevolo G., Bologna. La fontana del Nettuno, Bologna, Scripta Maneant, 2018
  • Ferretti E., Il Nettuno architetto delle acque. Bologna. L’acqua per la città tra Medioevo e rinascimento, Bologna, Bononia University Press, 2018.
  • Succede solo a Bologna, Nettuno è perfetto. Storia e curiosità sulla statua del Giambologna, Bologna, Minerva Edizioni, 2017.

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