This massive fountain features the God of the Sea, trident in hand. He lords over four cherubs representing the rivers Nile, Amazon, Danube, and Ganges. Neptune holds his hand out as if to calm the waters, the ultimate symbol of power.
But the original version may have been a bit too powerful. According to legend, when the 16th-century sculptor Giambologna was constructing the fountain, Pope Pius IV became concerned by the, er, manliness of Neptune and ordered the genitals made smaller. (The fountain was commissioned to symbolize the Pope’s power and reign, as he ruled the land like Neptune ruled the water.)
Because you don’t say no to the Pope, Giambologna grudgingly obliged, but secretly got his revenge. While standing behind and to the right of the statue, observers might notice Neptune’s hand is extended in a particular away. His thumb pokes out past his leg, creating the illusion that the god seems very … excited … indeed. One need only look down at the statue’s shadow (at the right time in the afternoon) to confirm the sea god’s firmness and virility.
Legendary pettiness aside, it’s a beautiful, iconic fountain. Take a look at that trident, too. Seem familiar? It’s the inspiration for the famous emblem of Bologna-based luxury car company, Maserati.
Know Before You Go
The fountain sits diagonally across the Piazza Maggiore from the Basilica di San Petronio.