the nymphaeum

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Nymphaeum of Athens

Athens, Greece

140 CE


The nymphaeum was a large, semicircular and elaborate fountain facing north towards the Panathenaic Way.

Construction began under Hadrian and was completed around 140 CE under Antonius Pius. It was built over the remains of the Mint which had previously occupied this site.

The walls of the fountain had niches decorated with statues of the Antonine imperial family and its lower part was formed by basins, pools and springs fed by the city’s Hadrianic aqueduct

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A so called temple of Minerva Medica, Rome

Actually this is a nymphaeum constructed in the 4th century CE.

In any case anyone who has travelled to Rome with a train has seen a glimpse of this building. I had always wanted to have a closer look at it and decided to visit the temple last year, Had to say that it was a bit of anticlimax due to construction works.

Rome, July 2015

Nymphs Listening to the Songs of Orpheus by Charles François Jalabert, 1855. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland.

The natural grotto, and fresh, flowing water in this painting, are classical characteristics of nymphaeum. Note, too, the recline postures of the nymphs, which is reminiscent of the depictions of nymphs on ancient Roman reliefs.

Nymph. Roman; bronze; 1st century CE. Unknown provenance, private collection.

“The idea that rivers are gods and springs divine nymphs is deeply rooted not only in poetry but in belief and ritual; the worship of these deities is limited only by the fact that they are inseparably identified with a specific locality.”

~ Walter Burkert, Greek Religion: Archaic and Classical . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991.

The benefits of pure, flowing waters were recognized and valued to the point that people not only made offerings of gratitude to the spirits of the place, but sought their assistance in matters of health in general and conception in particular. A nymphaeum was originally a grotto near a river or natural spring which was regarded as the habitation of a nymph or nymphs. Eventually, articifial grottos were designed for fountains, and as garden features.

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For all of my Heroes of Olympus fans out there, the nymphaeum where Percy, Jason and Piper almost drowned and the statue from which a trap door leading to Archimedes’ underground workshop opened up