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In ancient times, water fountains were built for practical reasons, to provide clean water for drinking and bathing to residents of cities and villages. Over time, they became increasingly ornate — serving as memorials, public amusements, and often ostentatious displays of wealth and prestige. By the end of the 19th century, the invention of mechanical pumps allowed water to be vaulted even higher into the air. Today’s technology enables designers to build spectacular structures that splash in rhythm to computer-controlled lights and music, the water literally dancing to the delight of spectators. Modern or ancient, these 15 bubbling, beautiful fountains are sure to make a splash.
Trevi Fountain (Rome, Italy)
In a city known for beautiful fountains, Trevi manages to stand out, not least because the Aqua Virgo aqueduct that feeds it dates back more than 2,000 years. Architect Nicolo Salvi designed the baroque masterpiece, which was completed in 1762 and features statues of Carrara marble, centered by a sculpture of the Greek god Oceanus. Following a tradition made famous in the 1954 film Three Coins in the Fountain, romantics now toss more than a million Euros worth of coins into the sparkling waters each year, wishing for love (or at least a quick return to the Eternal City). After making your wish, sample some of the neighborhood’s sweetest confections at Gelateria Valentino on Via del Lavatore.
Archibald Fountain (Sydney, Australia)
The J. F. Archibald Memorial Fountain is located in Hyde Park, Australia’s first public park and an oasis in bustling Sydney. Commissioned to memorialize the bond between Australian and French soldiers in World War I, the art deco creation was the work of sculptor François-Léon Sicard. The bronze sculptures are heavily influenced by classical Greek and Roman art and center on a figure of Apollo surrounded by depictions of Diana, Pan, Theseus, and the Minotaur, along with dolphins and tortoises. After admiring the fountain, tuck into the forecourt of Saint James Church (one of Sydney’s oldest) for great coffee and French treats from Jardin St James.
The Dubai Fountain (Dubai, UAE)
The world’s tallest building can’t be neighbors with just any old fountain. In front of the impressive 2,716-foot Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Fountain more than holds its own. Nine hundred feet long with jets of water shooting as high as 500 feet, this modern marvel combines lights, music, and water during synchronized shows. Visitors can get up close and personal on a boat ride around the fountain’s 30-acre Burj Khalifa Lake. But for the fanciest view, book a Fountain Suite in the Burj’s Armani Hotel. And as long as you’re exploring the United Arab Emirates, be sure to check out the “Human Waterfall” feature in the city’s largest mall, where fiberglass figures plummet four stories down a watery tableau.
Friendship of the Peoples Fountain (Moscow, Russia)
This grand neoclassical fountain was erected in 1954. Sixteen gilded women in national costumes surround a sheaf of wheat, sunflowers, and hemp in the enormous oval basin, symbolizing the 16 republics comprising the USSR at the time. Located in the Pavilion of Peoples Friendship, the fountain is part of Moscow’s “Second Wonder,” the All-Russia Exhibition Centre, also known as VDNKh. While you’re wandering the pavilions in the exhibition center, be sure to check out the imposing Stone Flower Fountain as well. Want a Soviet space-themed snack? Head to the cafe in the nearby Cosmonautics and Aviation Center.
Banpo Bridge Moonlight Rainbow Fountain (Seoul, South Korea)
Measuring 3,740 feet in length, Seoul’s Moonlight Rainbow Fountain is the world's longest bridge fountain. The fountain’s 380 jets are fed with continuously recycled water drawn from the Han River, which the Banpo Bridge spans. The nozzles shoot out up to 140 feet and are illuminated by 10,000 LED lights, which are choreographed with colors and music during daily shows that delight between April and October. Installed in 2009, the fountain pumps out 190 tons of water per minute. The beautiful spectacle adds another layer of interest to the bridge: Banpo sits upon another bridge, the Jamsu, forming South Korea’s first double-decker bridge. While you’re there, check out the fascinating Some Sevit artificial islands at the bridge’s southern end.
Magic Tap (Santa Galdana, Spain)
“Magic taps” are disembodied water spigots that gush water while being suspended, seemingly without supports, in mid-air. Found in a few places around the world, they’re particularly popular in Spain, including Olivenza, Bahia de Cadiz, and Santa Galdana. The secret? A (sometimes transparent) tube supports the tap, feeding it with water from below. When the thick spray emerges turbulently from the top, the tube is disguised — and viewers are enchanted. Afterward, treat yourself to lobster paella at the nearby Restaurant Cala Mitjana.
The Fountains of Bellagio (Las Vegas, Nevada)
More than a thousand fountains shimmer and sway in the eight-acre lake that separates the opulent Bellagio Hotel from the Strip, shooting water up to 460 feet into the desert sky. Made famous in the 2001 heist comedy Ocean’s Eleven, the fountains dance to music in daily choreographed shows, which take place every 30 minutes from 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and every 15 minutes from 8:00 p.m. to midnight. The fountains’ elaborate system of pumps is maintained by a team of trained scuba divers, who often retrieve wedding rings, wallets, and other objects from the lake’s 16-foot depth. There are great fountain views from the Strip, but the terrace view and dining at Lago are worth the splurge.
Cascades of Hercules (Kassel, Germany)
The magnificent 18th-century copper statue of the Greek demigod Hercules is part of the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe UNESCO World Heritage Site in the German state of Hesse. The first water feature was launched in the park in 1714. Water flows down more than 800 feet of giant stone structures that act as water stairs, from the base of the imposing statue (the highest point in the park) to a fountain, before emptying into the picturesque lake in front of the neoclassical Schloss Wilhelmshöhe castle. For a great view and excellent food, make reservations for a window seat at the Herkules Terrassen, at the top of the hill.
Magic Water Circuit (Lima, Peru)
In downtown Lima’s historic Parque de la Reserva, visitors can enjoy not just one, but 13 distinct fountains in a massive fountain complex known as the Magic Water Circuit. The neoclassical park was established in 1929, and the water features were inaugurated in 2007. Wear water shoes and quick-drying clothes if you want to experience the interactive fountains — because you will get wet while making your way through the Dream Maze. Evenings are when the park really turns magical, as lasers are projected onto the waters for a dreamy, fireworks-like experience. After one of several evening shows, enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and a churro to ensure the sweetest of dreams.
Charybdis Fountain (Sunderland, England)
In Homer’s Odyssey, Charybdis was punished by Zeus, who struck her with a thunderbolt and transformed her into a whirlpool-creating sea monster. In 2000, British water sculptor William Pye created the mesmerizing Charybdis vortex fountain for northern England’s luxurious Seaham Hall hotel. Enclosed in a transparent cylinder, the whirlpool appears to emerge from the ground, and steps allow visitors to gaze into the swirling waters. Pye has subsequently created other vortex fountains in Oman, Brazil, and elsewhere in the U.K.
Buckingham Fountain (Chicago, Illinois)
Located in Grant Park, “Chicago’s Front Yard,” the Clarence F. Buckingham Memorial Fountain is a crown jewel along the city’s stunning lakefront. One of the largest fountains in the world, the tiered rococo-style confection was inspired by the Latona Basin at Versailles. However, in typical American fashion, Buckingham is twice the size of its French counterpart. Designed by French sculptor Marcel François Loyau, the fountain features four basins of granite and pink Georgia marble that symbolize the vastness of Lake Michigan. Four sets of art deco horses represent Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan — the four states bordering the mighty lake. The fountain operates seasonally, usually from May to October. While you’re in the neighborhood, don’t miss the two 50-foot towers that make up the modern Crown Fountain in Millennium Park.
Nacka Strand Fountain (Stockholm, Sweden)
This fountain just outside central Stockholm features a work started by Carl Milles, Sweden’s most famous sculptor. God, Our Father, on the Rainbow was originally intended for installation outside the United Nations building in New York City, but the project was canceled. Milles’ protege, Marshall Fredericks, completed the piece in 1995, and now it presides over Nacka Strand. (Make time to visit Milles’ home and studio on the nearby island of Lidingö if you can.) The sculpture depicts God standing at the apex of a 75-foot-tall spout, upon which he is hanging stars tossed to him by an angel at the base. The spout’s rushing water completes the magnificent rainbow’s arch.
Fountain of Wealth (Singapore)
The Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore celebrates its status as a harmonic melting pot of cultures, and the Fountain of Wealth, constructed in 1995, symbolizes that goal. Its ring shape — constructed of silicone bronze — is based on the sacred mandala, which represents unity. Water is symbolic of wealth and life in Chinese culture, and the inward flow represents the retention of riches in traditional feng shui. Located in the Marina Centre’s Suntec City development, the Fountain of Wealth is considered lucky by visitors who circle the base three times, touching the water throughout. After admiring the fountain, satisfy your appetite by trying some of the amazing dining options nearby.
The Giant at Crystal Worlds (Wattens, Austria)
Austrian glass maker Swarovski knows how to draw attention, and the manufacturer’s Swarovski Crystal Worlds experience is no exception. Opened in 1995, the Tyrolean attraction has an art museum, park, and restaurant — plus the grass-covered head of a friendly giant overlooking the entrance to it all. The Giant is the creation of Austrian sculptor André Heller. The massive cranium has dazzling eyes and a waterfall fountain emerging from his mouth into a pool below. The interior is covered in crystals, making it the world’s largest kaleidoscope. In any season, the entire attraction is an imaginative, fairy-tale landscape.
Fountains of the Parc de Versailles (Versailles, France)
The gilded, glittering interiors at the Palace of Versailles are more than matched by the expansive gardens surrounding the estate — and the fountains are even more important than the flowers. Some of the world’s finest sculptors labored to create these watery wonders, most of which have a mythological theme. The largest, inspired by Ovid's Metamorphoses and built in 1668, is the Latona fountain, which depicts Latona, the mother of Apollo and Diana, protecting her children. For a meal that’s as royal as Marie Antoinette, head to La Belle Époque and don’t skip the Bourbon vanilla crème brulée. C’est magnifique!