The magnificent Fonte Gaia fountain, designed by Jacopo della Quercia around 1419, adorns the higher part of Piazza del Campo. The fountain we see today stands on the exact spot occupied by a previously existing fountain in 1346. The water that feeds the fountain travels from a spring in the nearby countryside through 25 kilometres of underground passages known as Bottini, built in the Middle Ages and named thus on account of their barrel vaulting.
The fountain is named Fonte Gaia on account of the great celebrations that took place when the inhabitants of Siena saw the water gushing out from the fountain for the first time. Although Jacopo della Quercia received the commission to design the fountain from the Comune in 1409, construction did not actually take place until between 1414 and 1419 because of the sculptor’s prior engagements in Lucca, where he was completing the tombstones of Lorenzo Trenta and his wife in the Trenta family chapel at San Frediano in Lucca.
Della Quercia drew the inspiration for his design of the fountain from the traditional designs of Medieval Senese public fountains. A large, altar-like rectangular basin is surrounded on three sides by a high parapet. The sides are decorated with reliefs of The Creation of Adam and The Flight from the Garden of Eden. Two female figures adorn the front two columns, traditionally believed to represent Rea Silvia and Acca Larentia, in remembrance of Siena’s legendary associations with Rome. The long section of the fountain is adorned at the centre with a Madonna and Child, surrounded by allegories of the Virtues.
Although in poor condition, the sculptures are still a clear indication of the originality and power of Jacopo della Quercia, who has managed to capture an extraordinary sense of movement in so few simple lines. By the mid-19th century the fountain was in such precarious condition that it was decided to replace the original with a copy. Tito Sarrocchi was commissioned to sculpt the new fountain in 1858 and he completed it in 1869, albeit without the two statues on the final pilasters. What remains of the original fountain by Jacopo della Quercia is kept in the Loggia of the Palazzo Pubblico.