The provision of fresh water was, from the start, a problem in Siena, as the city is not situated on or near a river. Siena would eventually draw its water from vast underground supplies, which fed a series of public fountains scattered around the city.
The Fonte Gaia (Fountain of Joy), which was the first fountain to be built in the Piazza del Campo, is thought to have acquired its name from the sheer outpouring of joy which greeted the arrival, in 1346, of water in the centre of the city. The Fonte Gaia was originally fed by an aqueduct over 15 miles (25 kms) in length.
The Fonte Gaia is decorated with a series of marble reliefs, which were carved by Jacopo della Quercia (1374-1438) between 1409 and 1421. In 1859 the decision was taken to replace the reliefs with copies. The work was entrusted to the locally-born sculptor Tito Sarrocchi (1824-1900), who completed the task a decade later. The original reliefs are on display in the museum at Santa Maria della Scala.
The side reliefs depict scenes from the book of Genesis: The Creation of Adam and The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The water-spouting wolves represent the legendary lupa, the she-wolf who suckled the twins Remus and Romulus, a celebration of Siena’s supposed links to ancient Rome. This link was further emphasised by the two nude female figures, who once adorned the front two columns, traditionally believed to represent Rea Silvia and Acca Larentia. The two figures were not added in the reconstruction, but can be viewed along with the original panels in the museum at Santa Maria della Scala.
The reliefs at the rear of the fountain depict the Madonna and Child flanked by the Virtues.