There was a time when the square in front of Palermo’s Praetor’s Palace was known as “Square of Shame”, due to the naked statues around the spectacular fountain at its center.
The Pretoria Fountain, sculpted by Francesco Camilliani, arrived in Sicily’s capital in 1574, after having enhanced a beautiful garden in Florence for a few years: it was transported to the island divided into pieces – 644 of them to be exact – and was put back together in its current location. Palermo’s Senate had purchased it from the original owner, who needed to solve his financial problems and pay his debts.
The people of Palermo looked at those half-dressed statues and identified them with the corrupt officials in their city hall… but in reality they were meant to represent mythological figures such as the gods on Mount Olympus, and Florence’s rivers – including the Mugnone, immortalized by Boccaccio in his “Decameron”. The Florentine writer set one of the novellas along the banks of the Mugnone, where his characters look for heliotrope, a stone they believe will make anyone carrying it invisible… the perfect remedy for anyone feeling ashamed of something.
Luckily for us, the Pretoria Fountain remains visible to this day, in its shameless magnificence.