Tara A. Spears
While Mexican style home gardens frequently incorporate moderate sized water features, the public water fountains throughout the country take art, architecture, and function to another level. Every Mexican village and city has some type of unique water features that include sculpture, blending stone, concrete, and metal with cascades of water to provide relief from the intense sun.
Fountains were originally solely functional, connecting springs or aqueducts to provide drinking water to the inhabitants. As people settled together to form villages, towns, and large cities the fountain provided water for bathing also. For centuries the fountains functioned by gravity: a higher up source of water such as a lake or reservoir in the mountains was channeled to the lower elevation where the water could flow from a structure.
According to Architectural Digest, in addition to providing drinking water, fountains were used for decoration and to celebrate their builders. Roman fountains were decorated with bronze or stone masks of animals or heroes. In the Middle Ages, Moorish and Muslim garden designers used fountains to create miniature versions of the gardens of paradise. By the mid 1500 fountains became central elements not only of city squares, but of the new style of renaissance garden.
By the end of the 19th century, as indoor plumbing became the main source of drinking water, urban fountains became purely decorative. Mechanical pumps replaced gravity and allowed fountains to recycle water and to force it high into the air.
Fountains are used today to decorate city parks and squares; to honor individuals or events; for recreation and for entertainment. In addition, due to its warm climate many of Mexico parks include a splash fountain that is intended for people to come in and cool off on hot summer days. These fountains are also referred to as interactive fountains. These fountains are designed to allow easy access, and feature nonslip surfaces, and have no standing water, to eliminate possible drowning hazards, so that no lifeguards or supervision is required. These splash pads are often located in public pools, public parks, or public playground.
By the beginning of the 20th century, cities began using steam pumps and later electric pumps to send water to the city fountains. Later in that same century, urban fountains began to recycle their water through a closed recirculating system that has an electric pump, often placed under the water, to push the water through the pipes. The water must be regularly topped up to offset water lost to evaporation, and allowance must be made to handle overflow after heavy rain.
Mexico had a creative boom after the revolution of 1910 and many national heroes to be immortalized. What better venue to show national pride than by installing monumental water fountains in public places? City parks and street rotundas were soon enhanced by phenomenal sculptures.
Of course the larger urban areas in Mexico proudly showcase world-class fountains. Every zoological garden that I have visited has some type of fountain intertwined with the animals. All types of the urban water fountains provide a contrast with its paved environment and offer a place to de-stress. My favorites are in Guadalajara and Tepic, both superb places to visit.
As you travel throughout Mexico, take time to appreciate the creative statement that each public water fountain makes. With the huge variety of styles-colonial, classical, art noveau, modern- this is sure to be a fountain that speaks to you.