The Wallace Fountains Fete 150 Years in Paris

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The Wallace Fountains Fete 150 Years in Paris
What better anniversary to celebrate after this summer of heatwaves than 150 years of the iconic and beautiful Wallace Fountains which provide refreshing drinking water to Parisians and visitors alike all over the city? And Paris will be doing just that with a number of events planned for this September. Earlier this year, to mark the anniversary, one of the city’s 150 or so Wallace Fountains was moved from its original spot in the Place Denfert-Rochereau (14th arrondissement) to the courtyard of the Musée Carnavalet, the top history museum in Paris. Its prominence in this prestigious location will serve a historical purpose, but it will also be practical, dispensing drinking water to all who need it. Juliette Tanré-Szewczyk, from the museum’s heritage and conservation section, is keen to stress that the museum will remain true to the wishes of Richard Wallace, originator of the whole idea, that they should be both “utilitaire” and “décoratif.” Musée Carnavalet © OliverN5 at Creative Commons When Richard Wallace first conceived the idea in 1870, he was responding to a great need. During the Siege of Paris, aqueducts had been destroyed and ordinary Parisians were forced to pay high prices for dirty water drawn from the Seine. Wallace, a wealthy English baronet living in Paris, felt a moral obligation to provide safe, clean drinking water freely to all who needed it. He knew too that this would make the poor less reliant on alcohol, deemed safer to drink than river water, and so have health and social benefits. The first Wallace Fountain was installed 150 years ago this summer, on July 30th, 1872. Wallace took a personal interest in the design of the fountains; they should be tall enough to be seen from a distance, easy to maintain, low enough in cost to mean that a good number could be installed and, above all, practical. A steady stream of water should flow from them, thus ensuring it would never stagnate; the water should flow at a height dogs could not reach and the caryatids – sculpted female figures – holding up the basin should be close enough together to mean that horses could not use the fountain as a water trough. Photograph of Sir Richard Wallace (1818-1890) (Sir Richard Wallace, 1st Baronet) © Chantepie, The Wallace Collection, Public Domain He was determined that the fountains would be not just practical, but beautiful too.  They should embellir la ville, that is, embellish the city. In fact, they should be works of art and to that end he asked his friend, the sculptor Charles-Auguste Lebourg, who had worked on the Palais du Louvre and the Hôtel de Ville, to design them. Lebourg came up with four versions and the main one seen in Paris today has four caryatids holding up the dome from which the water flows into a basin, representing four virtues in keeping with Wallace’s philanthropic mission: kindness, simplicity, sobriety and charity. Have a look next time you pass a Wallace Fountain and you will notice that each of the four figures is slightly different. You may also see two of Lebourg’s other designs around the city, a slightly smaller version, intended to be cheaper to produce and a push-button version which is found in the city’s parks and gardens.
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Lead photo credit : Wallace Fountain in front of Shakespeare and Co © Eric Parker at Creative Commons

More in Fountains in Paris, French fountains, Richard Wallace, Sights in Paris, wallace fountains

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Recently retired from teaching Modern Languages (French and German), Marian now has time to develop her interests in travel and European culture and history. She will be in Paris as often as she can, visiting places old and new, finding out their stories and writing it all up as soon as she gets home. Marian also runs the weekly podcast series, City Breaks, offering in-depth coverage of popular city break destinations, with lots of background history and cultural information. She has covered Paris in 22 episodes but looks forward to updating the series every now and then with some Paris Extra episodes.

Comments

  • Peter John Henshaw
    2022-08-22 12:25:20
    Peter John Henshaw
    Marian You forgot to mention the Applique Fountain. The only one which still survives is on the wall of the Jardin des Plantes in rue Geoffroy St Hilaire near the corner of rue Cuvier. It was in a sad state of repair until a few years ago it was restored to its original glory. I have a booklet 'The Wallace Fountains of Paris' by Alan Sykes which was purchased at the Wallace Collection in London where I also bought a 14cm Grand model of a Wallace Fountain. Thank you so much for Bonjour Paris. It allows me to revisit areas of the city I have been privileged to see on many visits and to keep up what is happening there now. Covit stopped my planned trip from Melbourne but I hope to eventually travel there again before too long.

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    • Marian Jones
      2022-08-22 05:25:45
      Marian Jones
      Yes, quite right, I left that one out. Thank you for mentioning it - as you say, it's unique. I'm amazed to hear you have your own Wallace Fountain model and pleased too that you enjoy our content. I hope it won't be too long until you are able to visit Paris again.

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  • Joan Berger
    2022-08-20 04:43:10
    Joan Berger
    where can we get a map of their placement? we have seen some of them and always wondered if was safe to drink the water.

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    • Marian Jones
      2022-08-22 05:19:59
      Marian Jones
      I haven't been able to find a good map showing all the Wallace Fountains, but there is a very usable list at this link: https://wallacefountains.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/ChartWallaceFountains.pdf It lists them by arrondissement and gives the exact location for each one. It's actually from the Wallace Fountain Challenge, suggesting you find them all and tick them off as you go! And yes, the water is supplied by the Paris Water Company, and therefore quite safe to drink.

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  • DANA IVEY
    2022-08-19 07:11:51
    DANA IVEY
    None of the picture of Wallace Fountains clearly show water flowing. Where does the water come from and go to on a Wallace Fountain?

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    • Marian Jones
      2022-08-20 10:59:12
      Marian Jones
      The fountains are all maintained by Eau de Paris, the Paris Water Company, so - although I don't know for definite! - I imagine they are connected to the water and drainage mains. The reason they are switched off from November to March is because of the risk of the water freeing and damaging the pipes.

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  • SGF
    2022-08-18 09:30:09
    SGF
    Fabulous commentary and history ….can’t wait to explore. We have missed the past 26 months.

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    • Marian Jones
      2022-08-20 11:03:23
      Marian Jones
      Thank you! I hope you will be back soon and can really recommend the walks suggested on the Wallace Fountains website (the link is in the article). Or of course, our own Flânerie series has lots of ideas for ways to explore Paris on foot.

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  • zarou haesslein
    2022-08-18 07:45:48
    zarou haesslein
    I am so happy to be learning about the fountains..they are beautiful..what an interesting background.. thank you ..

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    • Marian Jones
      2022-08-20 11:10:31
      Marian Jones
      Thank you, Zarou. I too think it is a lovely story, both for practical reasons and because they are such a beautiful part of the Paris 'landscape'.

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  • Pat Hallam
    2022-08-17 09:57:51
    Pat Hallam
    Two things I love about Paris are the number of street benches to rest tired feet, and the easy availability of drinking water, which has been an absolute boon in recent weeks. Even the temporary fountains that pop up every summer. But the Wallace fountains are something special & as you say, sit alongside the Morris columns and green benches as iconic Paris landmarks. Thanks for telling us about the festival; I shall look up the events.

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    • Marian Jones
      2022-08-17 05:56:07
      Marian Jones
      Thank you, Pat, I'm glad you enjoyed the piece. And I hope you make it to the festival!

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