L’eccezione fa la regola

July 20, 2012 / Art & Archaeology
Rome, Lazio
Upon purchasing aqueduct water rights from the Pope in Rome, the rule was that new right’s owner had to build a public fountain for the benefit of the neighborhood. While numerous fountains in Rome were outright Papal commissions, many are of this other kind, built by residents throughout the ages. We can thank this custom if Rome is full of beautiful fountains, delighting visitors and residents alike.

Today’s note’s title however, is the Italian maxim which translates as “the exception makes/confirms the rule.” And nowhere is this more appropriate than on Via del Babuino, one of the three “prongs” (together with the Via del Corso and Via di Ripetta) of Rome’s distinct tridente shopping area.

Although originally called Via Clementia, after Pope Clement VII (1525) and then changed to Via Paolina (Pope Paul III, 1534), it eventually came to be called Via del Babuino. Why?

A merchant from Ferrara, Patrizio Grandi, purchased water rights in the area and so commissioned a fountain for the public as was his repsonsibility. He decided that the fountain should feature the mythological Silenus, Bacchus’ drunk advisor. Either something went horribly wrong (drunk sculptor?) or Grandi was a prankster through and through. Fact is that to this day the fountain remains, unequivocally, the most preposterously ugly affront to anyone’s Roman aesthetic sensibility, ever! Of course, the Romans immediately nicknamed it il babuino (baboon), and have loved it ever since.


by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

14 Responses to “L’eccezione fa la regola”

  1. What good timing for this! I just returned from another trip to Rome, saw this, and actually photographed it as it struck me as so odd. Everyone that has viewed my pictures comments on this fountain. I was trying to research the background and now I have it…”il babuino”! Mille Grazie….

    p.s. Rome was very warm, crowded but amazing as ever!

  2. Looks like a diver’s wet suit. Appropriate for a fountain, I guess!

  3. Linda Boccia


    I keep saying that you should write a guide book, not necessarily for tourists, although many would appreciate it as well, but one for ex pats who now live or will live in Rome. I would purchase it in a heartbeat.Come sempre, grazie per tuo informazione.

  4. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    …and I too love it, to mr it appears he is in his mutande

  5. Ugh. He does look wonderfully ugly! I didn’t know that about the fountains in Rome. What a fantastic little piece of information. It would be so nice if cities around the world considered doing something similar.

  6. Jane Aker

    Babuino is one of the famous “Talking Statues of Rome.” I’m fascinated by the four of them, and am so grateful to add this bit of information to my research.
    Thank you! I’ll be back in October.

  7. He sure is ug-ly. Thanks for this tidbit…and oh, a friend of mine has a nonna who died last year, and she (her heirs) just got a bill for 30,000 euro (YEP, 30, THOUSAND) for her water bill (from Abbanoa)–for a period of 2 years. Another Italian mystery is, WHY wouldnt someone contact somebody before this got so out of hand? Nobody is living in the house…they say the water was leaking into the pozzo! Pazzo!

  8. francesco costa

    oh, sì! doveva davvero essere ubriaco lo scultore di quella bruttissima (ma alla fine molto simpatica) figura maschile chiamata il “babuino”. è l’unica spiegazione, a meno che l’artista non fosse ispirato da un suo “gusto dell’orrido”! grazie per il pezzo bellissimo, caro gb. sono in partenza per dieci giorni in puglia e ti auguro di esserti organizzato un agosto divertente e rilassante. e auguro un mese felice a tutti i tuoi lettori!

  9. Gian Banchero

    Oh my gosh, I was expecting ugly but not so brutto that I almost fell off my chair!!! Though I must say that after the initial shock that laughter set in. Thanks GB!!

  10. Joan Schmelzle

    Late reading this because of short trip, and yes, he may be ugly, but I sure do love him. I’ll visit him again this coming December. And I hope that the fence and fabric wall around him are gone. Never did figure out what they were doing to him, but I did manage probably my 10th or 11th photo of him through a break in the “wall.”

  11. Malinda

    Come interessante è la storia delle fontane! Come divertente è la storia di “Babbuino”!
    I’ll have to see it sometime when visiting.


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