by captain oddsocks
March 10, 2006
Olomouc has, for centuries, been graced by a series of six baroque fountains, representing legends from classical Greek and Roman mythology. The fountains were constructed as part of the overall rebuilding of the city following the disastrous occupation by the Swedish army in the Thirty Years’ War, which ended in 1648. The six stone fountains, which were constructed between 1683 and 1735, were always intended to be a series of seven, with the most prestigious location reserved for the final fountain, at the corner of the central square where it is joined by the main road from Prague and Vienna.
Unfortunately, the construction of the seventh fountain was abandoned due to the more urgent priority of fortifying Olomouc in the face of new military tensions between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Prussia. The final fountain was to represent the legend of Arion, the poet, musician, and symbol of rectified injustices. Olomouc was capital of Moravia until the regional government fled during the Swedish occupation, and Arion was probably chosen because the city authorities saw the loss of capital-city status as a humiliating injustice that needed to be rectified.
The legend tells of a Greek poet who had become rich in Italy and Sicily due to his musical and poetic abilities. As he returned home by sea, jealous and greedy sailors forced him overboard and stole his treasure. The drowning Arion was rescued and carried to shore by a dolphin that had been attracted by the song he sang before jumping into the sea. When he eventually returned home to Corinth, the treacherous sailors were put to trial and Arion’s riches were restored.
Plans were drawn up in 1751, but the modern version was designed in the mid 1990s, when it finally became possible to go ahead with the project. A low stone wall contains the water that laps at the feet of huge brass turtles. Two of the turtles support sculptures of children playing musical instruments, while another supports a tall column, richly decorated with fish and dolphins, as well as maps, drawings, and medals from the thousand years of Olomouc’s recorded history. The main sculpture is a depiction of Arion himself, clinging to his dolphin rescuer.
Perhaps the most pleasant feature of the Arion fountain is that it has been designed to be interactive. The water is low enough to be seen by normal passers-by (you have to climb several steps to see the water in the older baroque fountains), and there are steps down on the inside, encouraging children to take a refreshing dip on a hot day. Another large turtle stands on dry ground nearby, intended as a climbing toy.
The new legend is that if you rub the dolphin on the head of this turtle, you will return to Olomouc some day.
From journal Olomouc: Historic Capital of Forgotten Moravia