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July 28, 2019

Italy: Bologna, Conserva di Valverde

Inside the Conserva di Valverde

Lists of Bologna’s must see sight usually include the Fountain of Neptune, which sits in Piazza Nettuno near the city’s central square, Piazza Maggiore. Today the Neptune’s Fountain attracts many selfie-snapping visitors. But in the past it served a more practical purpose: Built during the Renaissance the fountain was intended as a source of clean drinking water for Bologna’s populace. Even now it is common to see people fill their plastic bottles with the potable water coming from the fountain.

Though water is still drinkable, the source of the water has changed. Originally the water for the 16th Century fountain was a collection cistern a mile away on the side of a hill. The cistern’s design was clever; it included multiple settling pools to remove the sediment in the spring water by decantation. From the cistern a long stretch of underground piping took the accumulated clean water to the fountain.

The Fountain of Neptune

Detail of the fountain with a lactating nereid

At least that was the theory. Though the system worked it did not collect enough water to properly supply the fountain. The builders had misjudged the height and viability of the water table that feeds the cistern. With time it became clear that the cistern would never produce enough water to properly supply the Fontana di Nettuno. And thus sixty years after it was built, Bologna abandoned the cistern in favor of another more reliable source of water for its central fountain.

With the structure no longer needed the cistern was forgotten over the centuries. By the time people again took an interest in the subterranean building in the 20th Century its purpose was no longer understood. At first it was thought that the newly re-discovered structure was a Roman bath and it was given the name Bagni di Mario. It was only later after it was determined that the real purpose of the building was to supply water to the Fountain of Neptune. With that realization the structure was renamed as the “Conserva di Valverde”, though it is often still referred to as Bagni di Mario.

Looking up inside the Conserva di Valverde

The guide explains the Conserva di Valverde during the tour.


Conserva di Valverde has been opened for tours, which can be arranged at Bologna’s tourist office off to the side of Piazza Maggiore near Neptune’s Fountain. We visited Conserva di Valverde in October of 2018.

Details of a settling pool

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