There’s nothing like discovering a majestic historic fountain to make your day in Paris. Originally created to bring drinking water to the residents of Paris, fountains adorn many of the squares and gardens. These five fountains are some of my favorites that I return to again and again to marvel at their design and grandeur and ponder the story behind their creation.
1. Medici Fountain, Luxembourg Gardens
One of the most beautiful fountains in Paris is the Marie de Medici Fountain in the Luxembourg Gardens. Marie de Medici was the widow of King Henry IV and regent of the future King Louis XIII. She was not happy living at the Louvre and wanted to design a palace and gardens based on her Italian heritage. Florence’s Pitti Palace and its Boboli Gardens were the inspiration for the Luxembourg Palace and its gardens.
The Marie de Medici Fountain was built in 1630 but fell into disrepair after she died. With the redesign of Paris under Baron Georges Eugene Haussmann in the 1860s, the fountain was moved, one stone at a time, by the architect Alphonse de Gisors. At this time, the sculptures adorning the fountain were replaced.
Today, the Marie de Medici Fountain, shaded by lovely plane trees, is the perfect place to find a few quiet moments in Paris. The long basin is lined with urns of flowers, and the sculpture situated at the end is worth examining. At the very top is the Medici family coat of arms. Look for the masks representing comedy and tragedy and for Faunus, the god of the forest, and Diana, the goddess of the hunt. Rising in the middle are characters from Greek mythology. In bronze is the giant Polyphemus discovering the lovers Acis, a mere mortal, and Galatea, a sea nymph.
Pro Tip: Plan to spend a few hours in the Luxembourg Gardens. Watch the children sailing boats in the basin of the fountain, have a picnic on the iconic green metal chairs, and stroll through the garden examining all the statues. The palace orangery is now a small museum with excellent exhibits. For more Parisian parks and gardens, see this piece.
2. Igor Stravinsky Fountain, Place Igor Stravinsky
The Igor Stravinsky Fountain, one of Paris’s contemporary fountains, is meant to represent the works of Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, who lived in France from 1920 to 1939. Designed by Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely and French painter Niki de Saint Phalle, the Stravinsky Fountain was inaugurated in 1983. It can be found in Place Igor Stravinsky, a pedestrian-only square between the Centre Pompidou and the Church of Saint Merri.
The Stravinsky Fountain is immediately eye-catching with its 16 colorful statues moving about and spraying water. The whimsical pieces include a colorful bird, an elephant, red lips, a treble clef, a blue bowler hat, and a mermaid with water squirting from her breasts. Children love the vibrant fountain, and in the heat of the summer, people enjoy wading through it. Street musicians often play in the square, adding to the musical and poetic mood that the fountain evokes. There are cafes nearby where you can sit and study the chaotic and lively nature of this fountain.
Pro Tip: Admire the modern architecture of the neighboring Centre Pompidou. Visit its modern art museum, and head to the top floor to see wonderful views of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur Basilica.
3. Saint Sulpice Fountain, Place Saint Sulpice
In Place Saint Sulpice, in front of the striking Church of Saint Sulpice, is the elegant Renaissance fountain known as the Saint Sulpice Fountain. The current fountain was built in the mid-1800s and designed by the Italian architect Louis Visconti. The fountain, almost 40 feet high with water cascading down stacked octagonal basins, is impressive. Four lions, looking rather ferocious, sit at the base of the fountain as if guarding it, each holding a Paris coat of arms between its paws. On each side of the fountain is a niche where a bishop sits, each carved by a different sculptor; these give the fountain its alternate name, the Fountain of the Four Bishops. The fountain is topped with a dome and a cross.
Sit in the leafy square and be mesmerized by one of Paris’s most beautiful fountains.
Pro Tip: You’ll be impressed by the enormous church, Saint Sulpice, with its mismatched towers watching over the fountain. Take a few minutes to enter the church and see Eugene Delacroix’s masterpiece Jacob Wrestling with the Angel in the alcove to the right of the entrance. Saint Sulpice was mentioned in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. You can learn more about the iconic church here.
4. Four Parts Of The World Fountain, Garden Of The Great Explorers
Baron Haussmann, who was in charge of redesigning Paris in the latter half of the 19th century, commissioned Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux to create a fountain for the Garden of the Observatory, also called the Garden of the Great Explorers. Many sculptors worked on the splendid Four Parts of the World Fountain, also known as the Fountain of the Observatory.
The Four Parts of the World Fountain shows the world being held up by four figures representing the continents of Africa, America, Asia, and Europe. Each statue is in motion, appearing to dance. The artistic movement of the allegories draws the viewer’s eye upward toward the sphere embellished with the signs of the zodiac.
Eight magnificent seahorses rise from the basin under the spray of eight turtles facing them. Four dolphins spout water back toward the turtles. It is a sight to behold.
Find a nearby bench in this tranquil garden to feel the gentle mist from the Four Parts of the World Fountain on your face.
Pro Tip: The Four Parts of the World Fountain is just a short walk from the Luxembourg Gardens and will have far fewer tourists enjoying its spray on a hot day. Carpeaux’s plaster model of the fountain can be seen at the Musee d’Orsay.
5. Fountain Of The Seas And Fountain Of The Rivers, Place De La Concorde
Inspired by the fountains in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, the grandiose Fountain of the Seas and Fountain of the Rivers frame the obelisk that stands in the busy Place de la Concorde in central Paris. In 1836, the architect Jacques Ignace Hittorff was commissioned by King Louis Philippe I to redesign the square around the newly installed pink granite obelisk from the Luxor Temple in Egypt.
The Fountain of the Rivers, on the north side of Place de la Concorde, celebrates trade and the navigation of France’s rivers, especially the Rhine and the Rhone. Look for designs featuring agricultural products such as wheat and fruit. The Fountain of the Seas, situated on the south side of the square, represents the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. This fountain celebrates France’s participation in industry and fishing.
Powerful streams of water shoot from the tops of the fountains, and the swans, dolphins, and fish make a magnificent sight. Amidst the jets of water are Tritons and Nereids adorned in symbols of the sea, holding spouting fish and shimmering with gold accents. Other large figures are seated in ships being sprayed by dolphins. It’s all very impressive — so impressive that you might recognize these fountains from the hit movie The Devil Wears Prada.
Pro Tip: While visiting the Place de la Concorde and its glorious fountains, be sure to look up at the Eiffel Tower, and then stroll over to the nearby Tuileries Garden, which is a delight with even more fountains. Or walk in the other direction up the Champs Elysees toward the Arc de Triomphe.