Trink Wasser!

The water fountains, meaning a source of spring, are architectural elements that spring water into a basin or jets it into the air to supply water for several purposes. Initially, these fountains remained purely functional by being directly connected with springs, aqueducts, or reservoirs to provide water through gravity for various activities like drinking, bathing, washing, or firefighting. With the invention of indoor plumbing by the end of the 19th century, urban water fountains transformed into purely decorative elements attracting tourists and operating through mechanised systems. With the continuous improvements and innovations in the domain of water supply, the historic fountains from the 18th and 19th centuries were usually built to celebrate water and the technology associated with it. These historic fountains were expressions of Baroque art, and the bronze sculptures in these fountains would personify Rivers and Gods in combination with the city’s cultural significance. These memorial fountains were often designed by famous artists of their era to commemorate certain events in history.

The most prominent historic water fountains are the ‘Wallace Fountains’ in Paris which were constructed after the siege of Paris which had destroyed the aqueducts, contaminated the water and considerably increased the cost of drinking water. Sir Richard Wallace built these fountains in an attempt to provide clean drinking water to everyone and to decrease the reliance on alcoholic beverages, which were way cheaper and became a substitute for water. Fountains as a source of water supply for the population of Vienna were constructed during Roman times. Vienna today has more than 1000 drinking water fountains and about 55 monumental fountains intricately and artistically designed, situated in central squares and overseen by Wiener Wasser and the Stadtgärten. These are the old town drinking fountains, modern 3-meter high stainless-steel drinking fountains, and artistically designed drinking fountains. Apart from providing water, some of these fountains also provide cooling through spray mist. The city of Vienna has also created an interactive mobile application showing the locations of all water fountains on the city map. Similarly, Mexico City’s Water System, in 2015, inaugurated a network of 230 drinking-water fountains installed in public spaces across the city. Mexicans consume more bottled water per person compared to any other country in the world, and therefore, this system is an initiative to curb their dependence on bottled water. An interactive website informs the residents and tourists in Mexico about the locations and quality of drinking water in these fountains throughout the city.

Back to Lexicon

Cast-iron Wallace Fountain painted in green and equipped with tin cups to provide drinking water.

Sources: “History of the collection”, The Wallace Collection, accessed May 03, 2021,
  1. “Viennese Water - free of charge from drinking fountains”, Vienna Insight, June 26, 2018,
  2. “Mexico City's Drinking Water Fountains: Geo-Mexico, the geography of Mexico”, Geo, April 17, 2018,
  3. “Fountain”, Wikipedia, accessed May 03, 2021,
  4. “Wallace Fountain”, Wikipedia, accessed May 03, 2021,