Water reached the Piazza del Campo in the heart of Siena around 1342 after years of work. A fountain was constructed the next year and was named the Fonte Gaia, the “Fountain of Joy,” because once water flowed freely from the completed fountain, the people of Siena celebrated with joy. To this day, it is one of a few medieval fountains in Siena with water supplied from ancient aqueducts and nearby canals in the surrounding hills of Tuscany.
However, when the Black Plague claimed 80,000 lives in Siena, a pagan statue of Venus that was featured on the original fountain was blamed and Jacopo della Quercia was commissioned to build a new fountain to replace it. His fountain drew upon inspiration from the traditional designs of Medieval Sienese public fountains and was built between 1409 and 1419. Fonte Gaia was again replaced by a copy of Jacopo della Quercia’s version, with two statues of Rhea Silvia and Acca Larentis omitted, by Tito Sarrocchi in 1858 because of the fountain’s poor condition.
The marble panels of Jacopo della Quercia’s fountain currently reside in a room in the old Ospedale di Santa Maria della Scalla, which overlooks Piazza Duomo. Although in poor condition, the old fountain’s remains are known as one of the most important sculptures produced in 15th century Italy during the transition from the Gothic to the Renaissance styles. Furthermore, the statues of Rhea Silvia and Acca Larentis, respectively the nurse and mother of Romulus and Remus and a symbol of Liberality and Charity, were the first two statues of female nudes, not including Eve or saints, to stand in a public place.
The fountain has been nicknamed the “Queen of the Sienese fountains” because of its prime position in the Piazza del Campo, situated at the highest elevation of all the fountains at over 1000 feet above sea level. Fonte Gaia has a rectangular basin and is made of marble. Despite being fenced off on all sides, the beauty and prime location of the fountain makes Fonte Gaia a definite landmark in Siena.