The Neptune fountain of Messinais located right in front of the Palazzo della Prefettura, in Piazza Unità d’Italia. Dedicated to Neptune, god of the sea, it was commissioned by Messina Senate and created in 1557 by Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli -a Tuscan sculptor and collaborator of the famous Michelangelo- who had previously dedicated himself to the fountain of Orion standing in the beautiful Cathedral Square of the city. All of these fine monuments should be included in the list of “Messina what to see”,maybe to be discovered with a guided walking tour.
The Neptune fountain of Messina, perfectly and with creative genius, expresses the powerful Michelangelo style since, actually, it represents an allegory of the waters of the Strait of Messina, dominated by Neptune, who chains the two mythological monsters, Scylla and Charybdis, therefore representing a mirror of a physical and moral strength of the city that tames adversity.
Neptune fountain: before and after
The Neptune fountain, in its original position, was perfectly aligned with the other two works created by Montorsoli that are the fountain of Orion and the magnificent Lanterna of San Ranieri (the lighthouse of the port).
Neptune fountain, Messina, before the 1908 earthquake, was located in front of the ancient Town Hall at the Palazzata, on today’s Vittorio Emanuele street, between the tram station and the landing stage. The giant Neptune is placed with his face and hand outstretched towards the city, in a gesture of protection towards the maritime vocation of the Messina people.
The Neptune fountain , subsequently, was placed in the port area in front of the city walls, from which, in 1934, it was moved to its current site. Furthermore, the XV century scientist Francesco Maurolico inspired the classical symbology and dictated the inscriptions in Latin, still legible today at the polygonal base of the internal basin, which remains the original one.
In 1848, when it was still in the old site, due to the indiscriminate bombings carried out by the Bourbons on the city, the Neptune fountain was hit and damaged. The giant statue of Neptune, in 1856, was rebuilt by the sculptor Gregorio Zappalà and the siren Scylla was replaced with a similar sculpture in 1857 by Letterio Subba from Messina.
The fountain has an octagonal plan, decorated at the corners with panels, tridents, shells and dolphins. At the short sides, there are oval-shaped tanks that receive and pour water through the heads of lions and marine deities. The names of the sculptor, the viceroy Giovanni Cerda, the Senators and the “water provisors” are engraved on the edge of the basin.
In the Neptune fountain the god of the sea is represented in a very calm attitude with a trident in hand and placed on a high pedestal, which rises from the centre of the basin, with sea horses, coats of arms and masks in relief. The god is depicted in Herculean form, with a flowing beard and hair mixed with seaweed, as if he were coming out of the sea.
At the base of the pedestal of the Neptune fountain , also four different shields stand out, within which the Arcadian Cross of Messina and the imperial coat of arms are depicted, along with Spanish eagles with spread wings between the columns of Hercules. At the corners of the nut sit four hydrophobic sea horses of exquisite workmanship. A graceful dolphin twists around one leg of the deity with its tail up.
Finally, the Neptune fountain with a strong tragic content symbolizes the fantastic allegory of the restless waters of the Strait of Messina, tyrannized by the two fabulous Homeric monsters of Scylla and Charybdis represented in chains at his feet, restoring peace and tranquillity to the waters of the Strait that calms and soothes.
On the two sides the mythological figures of Scylla and Charybdis are placed showing a typically mannerist expressive power. In addition, the Neptune fountain presents various inscriptions, including those with the names of the author, the viceroy and the senators. Charybdis is depicted with the breast and face of a woman but with the belly of a she-wolf and the tail of a dolphin. Scylla, also with the chest and face of a woman, has the heads of barking dogs and the tail of a dolphin on its belly. If you are interested, you can learn more about these two mythological characters reading our blog post about the famous legend of Schylla and Charybdis.
The statues of Neptune and Scylla are copies of the authentic ones, which suffered the effects of the earthquake of 1908 and bombing. But don’t worry, you can still admire the majestic original masterpieces which are now kept at the Regional Museum of Messina.
So, Messina what to see? Would you like to discover live the Neptune fountain, Messina and its artistic heritage? We will be happy to welcome you and make you live a wonderful artistic experience.