As you walk into the Franciscan monastery of this colonial town (otherwise known as the ruins of San Francisco), you might have the impression as you walk through the patio of the first set of cloisters that something is missing. If you really look at the space and the shape of the patio it’s easy to perceive that at one point a large fountain must have existed at its center.
If you noticed this, then you are right! This monastery at one time had a fountain that was then completely removed, down to the base. The fountain must have combined beautifully with the arched galleries and the stylized decoration of the columns and the vaulted roof.
The fountain wasn’t destroyed by the earthquakes that rocked the town – rather, it was relocated to land that formed part of the Temple of the Order of Mercy, which remained in use even after these natural disasters. The Franciscan Temple – however – substantially diminished in size, due to the fact that its main nave caved in completely. A similar fate befell the Monastery, and it was later used by families to stay the night or to live.
In some of Eadweard Muybridge’s well known photos you can see little dwellings inside the atrium of the Franciscan ruins in 1875. Subsequently – in 1944 – La Antigua was declared a National Monument during the time of Jorge Ubico’s presidency and the decision was made to clear up the rubble from the central patio of the Monastery’s cloisters.
Once the (almost 171-year-old) rubble was cleared up, the base of what had once been a great fountain was discovered and its dimensions appeared to coincide with the fountain that was located inside the Convent of the Order of Mercy.
If you manage to take a look at this fountain (an easy feat to achieve – as you only need to walk 12 blocks from the San Francisco Church to find it) you will notice a large number of decorative touches unique to colonial times and with the distinct style recognized as the hallmark of the Architect Diego de Porres.
The ‘’Great Architect’’ (as he was known) used images of mermaids to represent chastity – a common image to be found amongst men’s Mendicant Orders. You can see images of mermaids around the bottom of the fountain, combined with a concentric design of big-lobed flowers and a frieze of nude children who surround a space that at one time probably held some sort of message that has now rubbed off.
The decorations along the base of the fountain weave up along a bossed column and finish in a central basin, surrounded by depictions of faces from whose mouths water falls; as if they were emitting some kind of sound.
A visit to this fountain is a perfect stop during an afternoon of leisure – for both tourists and locals – and it’s worth reflecting on the fact that its style is characteristic of the distinctive baroque style found across La Antigua. Symbolized by the water it contains and its constant movement, it is truly a unique architectural element that is worth protecting.