The original meaning of Fountain (from the
Latin ‘fontana’) was a natural spring or pool from which water flowed; for
example the source of a river was called a ‘fountain’ or ‘fountainhead’. The
use of the word ‘fountain’ for a man-made structure throwing water into the
air in a controlled way was first recorded in English around 1500 AD, after
the word had been in use for nature’s version for nearly 100 years.
Traditionally a fountain has a water source which fills a basin, trough or
something similar and then drains away. Fountains can be very simple, very
elaborate and sometimes very high. Some are computer controlled, with the
fountain bursting and subsiding in rhythmic patterns. Some flow in sheets
over a variety of surfaces, some cascade from one basin into another. Some
are simply set in an ornamental pool or garden pond, whilst others are
beautifully illuminated. And some have sculptures, including ones where many
creators have the same idea as to where the water should spring from!
Humans have long found fountains fascinating. The ancient Greek for fountain
was ‘pege’, and ‘pegomancy’ was a form of divination using fountains: the
diviner studied the pattern of bubbles in the water of a sacred pool or
spring, and claimed to be able to look into the past or foretell the future
In ancient Rome fountains provided drinking water, and they were considered
so important that each major fountain was connected to two different
aqueducts so that if one failed there was still water available. No
fountains from the Roman Empire survive: the many beautiful fountains now in
Rome all date from the Renaissance period or later.