Sensorial Responses to Fountains

On 4 November, I presented the paper, “Sensorial Responses to Fountains in the Roman City” at the “L’acqua e la città in età romana” conference in Feltre, Italy, organized by the University of Padova and the Idraulica Antica Study Group. We all had a great time learning about recent archaeological work throughout the Empire on water, in addition to new approaches happening in Roman hydraulic studies. Abstract is below.


Hadrianic North Nymphaeum, Perge, Turkey

Until recently, scholarship on water-display during the High Roman Empire has focused on typologies, along with its political and social dimensions. Water as a basic element has an inherent nature as a sensorial tour de force, from the taste of water to the sound and cool air produced by moving water. And the Romans certainly recognized this, as Pliny the Younger gushes, describing the water of one of the fountains in his Tuscan villa (Ep. 5.6.23, strepitu visuque iucunda, ‘a pleasure to hear and to see’). The new approach of the ‘archaeology of the senses’ helps us to understand better the reasons for water-display. Thus, in exploring the sensorial nature of archaeological remains, we can further understand how an ancient Roman experienced a monument, creating memories, despite the ephemeral nature of the senses. By applying elements of the archaeology of the senses, then, to Roman water-displays, we can imagine their past “sensorial qualities […] to conjure up the interweaving of materials, bodies, things, and substances in motion, to reignite their affective power.”[1]

Three fountains in different parts of the Roman Empire will be explored in this talk to understand better how fountains and the sensorial responses to their flowing water can change the use of space—thus altering the urban landscape of a site. The examples include the fountains in the forum of Philippi (Greece), the North Nymphaeum of Perge (Turkey), and the so-called ‘Triumphal Fountain’ of Glanum (France). By using the approach of archaeology of the senses, water-displays are placed in the empire-wide phenomenon of constructing fountains for their sensorial benefits, along with understanding their role in the Roman city, tapping into a common Roman sense of identity connected to water-displays.

[1] Hamilakis, Y. 2013. Archaeology and the Senses: Human Experience, Memory, and Affect. Cambridge. Page 13.


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