Landscape Elements are components of the landscape.  Yet another category of landscape elements are water features of which fountains are a specific type. Much like the ocean waves breaking on a rocky shore throwing droplets of water upwards due to the force of impact, fountains too occur where the pressure of water is released either naturally or manipulatively.  The well known natural ‘water fountain’ said to rise upto 18 meters, is the blowhole at Kudawella, on Sri Lanka’s Southern coast.  The surging seawater is lifted under pressure through the narrow aperture of the cavern ceiling.  Further out to sea enormous whales breaching the sea surface to breathe would blow their own fountain of moisture.  Were humans inspired by spectacular nature to create fountains?

Blowhole (Source : www.blogspot.com)

Origins and History

Fountains appear to have originated in Italy although an example has been found in Mesopotamia dating to 3000BC according to Ivor Solomons commenting in the Guardian epaper.  Given the hilly terrain and settlement patterns it appears that the gravity flow of water and forced constrictions provide the ideal context for fountains in Italy.  The later water follies of 16th century Villa Lante is an ideal example along with the delightful sprays of Villa D’Este.  Roman aqueducts bringing water to the cities purportedly ended its long energized journey in a fountain.  The more recent studies of Viktor Schaumberger has resulted in fountains of a different type spiraling the water rather than forcing it directly.

fountains in Vila Lante
Water fountains in Vila Lante (Source : www.wordpress.com)

Vila d’Este
Water fountains in Vila d’Este (Source : www. tourscanner.com)

Fountains in Sri Lanka

The 5th century Sigiriya gardens appear to be the only example of fountains in Sri Lanka from a historic aspect.  Despite the mention of ‘fountains of Paradise’ quoted by Marignolli and used as the title of a book by Sir Arthur C. Clarke ,  ‘The Travels of John de Marignolli 1339 -1353’ records his encounter with Seyllan[i] with mention of such fountains in our fair isle.  The reading is long but it appears he has feasted his eyes on the waterfalls of our mountainscapes.  The friar Giovanni (John) says:

“On the same mountain, in the direction of Paradise, is a great fountain, the waters of which are clearly visible at a distance of good ten Italian miles. And though it breaks out there, they say that its water is derived from the Fountain of Paradise.”

The friar Giovanni (John)
fountains in Sigiriya
Water appearing as a fountain in Sigiriya (Source : www.sigiriya.info)

It is my view that the Sigiriya fountains were an incidental outcome of the clever design as a means of reducing the pressure head of the water held in the reservoirs above during the rainy season.  The ancient builders likely had a learned outcome of the previously designed surge chambers above the showers at Ranmasu Uyana at the toe of the bund impounding the Tissa Weva waters which is at a higher level. Ranmasu Uyana in Anuradhapura is where, a large rock carving is found.  Popularly termed the ‘Sakwala Chakraya’ it is, as suggested in my findings, the early plan for the Sigiriya gardens.

It is my view that the Sigiriya fountains were an incidental outcome of the clever design as a means of reducing the pressure head of the water held in the reservoirs above during the rainy season.  The ancient builders likely had a learned outcome of the previously designed surge chambers above the showers at Ranmasu Uyana at the toe of the bund impounding the Tissa Weva waters which is at a higher level. Ranmasu Uyana in Anuradhapura is where, a large rock carving is found.  Popularly termed the ‘Sakwala Chakraya’ it is, as suggested in my findings, the early plan for the Sigiriya gardens.[i]

It appears then that in early hot but humid Sri Lanka,  fountains were not an element used consciously in landscaping save for incidental and limited appearance.  The lack of vernacular terms for fountains further supports this.  In recent times, as landscape elements have been borrowed from foreign cultures, fountains are found at Vihara Mahadevi Park with  a linear row of small fountains distantly reminiscent of the Moghul gardens of Shalimar, in Pakistan. 

The strongly axial entrance at BMICH is enhanced with a fountain as a focal feature.  The jet of water leans with the wind-blown droplets where the breezes from the South-West overcome the pumped pressure of water washing the vehicles as they enter. Perhaps this can be considered, tongue-in-cheek, as good gesture of cleansing on entry.  This is an example of the need to thoroughly understand the context of scale, wind conditions and function.

There was a proposal, fortunately abandoned, to have lit dancing waters on the Beira forgetting the small scale of the Beira Lake being nowhere near the vast scales of Lake Geneva in Switzerland with its Jet d’Eau reaching 140 metres (460 ft.) or the arrays of fountains in Dubai or the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, both desert lands where water is prized and celebrated. Perusal of the internet provides an array of many famous fountains of differing shapes, scales and historic content, plain or embellished sculpturally.  Large outdoor fountains, whether ancient, mediaeval or modern, are always a focal feature.  Fountains are also an urban feature unless a feature of a leisure resort or sprawling country mansion.

The Geneva Water Fountain
The Geneva Water Fountain (Jet d’Eau) – (Source – wikipedia.org)

Ordinary Water Fountain
Ordinary Water Fountain (Source : www.midwestpounds.com)

Related article: Are ponds an aesthetic element?

The Force behind the Fountain

Early fountains utilized gravity feed of water from reservoirs, necessarily requiring a hilly terrain with an elevational gradient. However, with the availability of electricity and the mechanical pump it was possible to throw water up higher more forcefully and importantly conserve the water as a resource by recycling. Fountains became possible even on flat ground. The urge to show superiority and dominance over nature through these forced but beautiful displays made possible using high pressure pumps.  It was the grand celebrative era of the fountain.

 While still used today with sophisticated designs and advanced  technology described below,  these  gradually gave way to environmentally conscious designs and an understanding of natural water flows of rushing streams, babbling brooks, cascades and the quiet meandering movement of rivers.  The behavior of water when impeded, constricted or unrestrained was observed.  The far Eastern Japanese gardens celebrated the flow of water embracing contrived nature, while other cultures accepted only the natural flows of water.

The mechanical fountain requires the basics of a pond or pool with a water source and ability to drain.  Overflows to be controlled and the components of the fountain’s working parts – the pump, the delivery head, the nozzle or nozzles, which may or may not have flanges and arrangement of arrays in the case of  grand displays. The use of the mechanical pump and a variety of operating pressures allowed forceful jets of water either singly or as multiple jets depending on the number and arrangement of nozzles used.  The nozzles were then experimented with; either fixed or allowing for movement of the nozzle where the water jets could rotate and swivel.  These coupled with clever lighting gave rise to ‘dancing water’ shows mimicking sinuous movements.

The nozzle flanges were then experimented with which introduces the sheet like splay, rather than spray, of the water.  You can try this by holding a spoon directly under the tap of running water.  The ‘dandelion’ fountain uses this flange design with carefully controlled pressure.  Small indoor bubbler fountains for quiet and tranquil settings also use such flanges under low pressure. 

dandelion’ fountain
El-Alamein Memorial Fountain (Source – pinterest.com)

The Variety Show

fountain equipment
Nozzles for fountains (Source : www.exportersindia.com)

In the Age of the Fountain, nozzle design with operating pressure of the water was everything.  Jets were achieved with simple nozzles and high pressure.  Multiple arrays of nozzles and there arrangement gave rise to single or double backdrop lines or when arranged in a circle the flower or crown fountains.  When these could swivel the medium pressure jets would circumscribe cones or hyperbolae giving fascinating effects.   Oscillating nozzles on lines could sway.  Rotating nozzles would produce crown effects.

Fan nozzles with a narrow slit opening, delivers the water sheet-like close to the nozzle while forming a rain of droplets at the end of its trajectory.  The sheet-like flower of water is achieved where a steady nozzle has the full bore of water stopped centrally to spread the water through the edge ring gap evenly outwards assisted by a flange on the nozzle. 

Designs of single fountains or arrays are only limited by imagination.  However, design as always, should be aesthetic without fuss.  Functionally, fountains are a focal feature but may also be used as backdrop or as a screening element.  Giving direction of movement is a more recent application.  Fountains are not run continuously but have a ‘show-time’ or operating time when it is most likely to be seen by people.  Necessarily, the pipework and arrays should be neat and preferably submerged just below the surface of the water to cater for the longer ‘off-time’ when not operating and a tranquil water body is the only visual scenery.

Amenity Fountains are most often operated in evenings or night time and coupled with dedicated aesthetic lighting systems.  The more complicated sequences of changing patterns and lights/colours are computer programmed.

Fountains have both amenity and functional use when used as aerators in stagnant water bodies.  The surrounding area could get odoriferous.  Fountains are also useful to indicate the surface level, particularly of clear water bodies.  Side bubblers are used in diving pools to indicate the surface level, especially when viewed from above.


Although water with a pH of 7 is neutral, the quality of water could vary due to dissolved minerals making the water slightly acidic or alkaline.  This would have an adverse effect on some metal nozzles.  It is usual to have nozzles of brass or the more expensive nickel-bronze or stainless steel.  These have better durability than other materials.  Filters may also be required to ensure that nozzles are free-flowing and not subject to clogging with particulate matter.  Especially if turbid water bodies are home to the display.  Submersible pumps are used in shallow water bodies, or pumps may be away if the delivery lines are not overlong.   Capital outlay, operating costs and maintenance can be considerable.

Fountains of the Future

Vortex fountains
Vortex fountain (source – Pinterest)

With more environmental and ‘green’ consciousness, fountains seem to give way to the tranquil quiet bubblers or sheets in office lobbies.  It appears to be more fashionable to have water walls, water curtains or even mists as a corporate offices and public spaces.  Viktor Schauberger’s study of Nature and energized water spiraling through tubes  is considered physically therapeutic and is used for providing a sense of well-being.  Based on the same principle of spiraling water, Vortex fountains are mesmerizing.

However it is manipulated, whether as fountain, bubbler, jets or spirals the ‘star’ component among the equipment, pipes, regulators, nozzles and flanges is that necessary landscape element of WATER, the properties of which, among all other compounds, is mind-boggling.  It is the properties of Water that make all types of fountains possible. Surface tension creates shapes that reflect the world around, yet appear white, while preserving it’s innate nature. No other liquid on Planet Earth can sustainably throw droplets or sheets in a manner to fascinate and capture the human mind.

Author – Archt. / L.Arct. Shereen Amendra

Click to see References 📚
  • The Travels of John de Marignolli 1339-1353 depts.washington.edu/silkroad/texts/marignolli.html
  • Amendra, Shereen, ‘Visit to the City of Anuradhapura: The Ran-masu Uyana and Sakwala Chakraya’ appearing in Mendis, D.L.O., (2007) ‘Learning from Ancient Hydaulic Civilisations to combat Climate Change’, SL Pugwash Group

Shereen Amendra
Professional in charge – Landscape Architecture

Shereen Amendra
Chartered Architect / Chartered Landscape Architect

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