Waters of Florence
Written by Assistant Professor, Ann C. Huppert
Despite hosting 8 million visitors a year, one vital element – ready sources of public water – has long been lacking for tourists to Florence. The abundant public drinking fountains that famously punctuate the alleys and byways of Rome have not been part of the Tuscan city. Until now.
Today visitors and locals alike can fill their water bottles directly from a public fountain in the main civic center, the Piazza della Signoria.
I was tickled to discover this new addition to the city’s urban infrastructure early in February. My brief visit coincided with deluvial rains in the whole of central Italy but water also remains a regular part of my thinking about Italian cities, having been the focus of the Architecture in Rome program I co-directed in 2011. As it turns out, that same year the Palazzo Vecchio (city hall) in Florence acquired its newest fountain, one that dispenses a choice of both ‘aqua naturale’ and ‘aqua gassata’ (still or bubbly water).
Florence has not been without fountains. The picturesque Fountain of Neptune has presided over the Piazza since the 16th century when the Palazzo Vecchio was transformed from the seat of a republican government to the residence of the newly ruling Medici overlords. Indeed, the sculptor Ammannati modeled Neptune’s face on that of Duke Cosimo I and created a public display of water intended to celebrate Medici dominion over the seas.
Standing just behind that casino historic monument, I was introduced to the new water source as “Renzi’s Fountain”, the product of Florence’s dynamic young mayor. Matteo Renzi who won the city’s mayoral election in 2009 but as of just this Saturday, February 22nd, was sworn in as Italy’s youngest prime minister at age 39. Renzi inaugurated this as one of 16 new city fountains, and in its first week it dispensed 30,000 liters of water.
The fountain in the heart of Florence is part of a larger environmental effort. Italians are great consumers of bottled mineral water but the regional public water administration of Tuscany has taken on that cultural institution in recent years. Their multi-pronged campaign includes not only providing new public water sources in the major cities of the Florence and its region but also a public-relations drive to encourage drinking tap water. Emphasizing that public water is both convenient and economical, the website advocates cost savings of up to 250 euros a year for a family that switches from buying bottled water. The water administration estimates a savings of 18 million plastic bottles within the first year and a half of the new civic fountain in the heart of Florence (www.publicacqua.it/fontanelli/cosa).
As a fan of aqua gassata, I can drink to that.