The fountain or Nymphaeum of Fata Morgana* (Ninfeo della Fata Morgana) is an astonishing building imbued with a dreamlike atmosphere of myth and, perhaps, magic! According to an inscription carved in stone – I am, o reader, the youthful Fata Morgana, who here gives youth to others – the waters of this fountain are recognised as bestowing youth upon those who drink it. The unusual and mysterious look of the place has encouraged legends and stories: it is said that bacchanals were held here on summer nights, with beautiful young nymphs and fairies then disappearing just as suddenly as they had appeared.
The whole structure was part of the gardens of the Villa II Risposo which was built in the 15th century (it is known as Villa Vecchietti, after the family who purchased the property in 1515). The grounds were not enclosed at the time as the fountain was originally intended for public use… in particular for the peasants working on the estate.
Probably designed by Giambologna, the building is flanked by a tabernacle that dates from 1573-1574 and has two drinking fountains and a water trough for the animals. The central fountain is known as II Fonte del Viandante [Fountain of the Traveller] because it was available to any passers-by. The basin is surmounted by a strange sculpture of a gorgon, which is said to depict Fata Morgana. The body of the building gives access to the main fountain. This has a shell-shaped basin supported by tow mermaids. The niche above it is rather bare as another statue of Fata Morgana – also the work of Giambologna – has now disappeared.
*According to legend, Fata Morgana was King Arthur’s sister (or half-sister), also known as Morgan le Fay. She tried to resist the growing power of Christianity within Brittany, which was largely due to the influence of the very pious Queen Gweniver. Ancient beliefs were the basis of her own magical powers, as they were at the basis of the powers wielded by Merlin. It was Morgana who is said to have embroidered the magical scabbard for Excalibur, which protected Arthur from any fatal wound in combat.