There is nothing more peaceful than a trickling fountain. We always wanted one in our backyard, but living in rainy Vancouver it was a mute idea. Then, after moving to Andalucía, long before we bought our reform-needy ruin, I began plotting our future terrace water feature.
The first summer came and then another one, and we still hadn’t find our fountain. Nor did we have a home to put it in for that matter, as our Casita 26 was awaiting a building permit. Meanwhile the search continued. We saw some lovely colourful tile fountains in Morocco, but like any good design, they were copied in infinite reincarnations. We weren’t looking for a-dime-a-dozen fountain, we wanted something unique that reflected our new home turf.
A fountain (from Latin fons – source of a spring) is a water supply regulated into a man-made construction, whose function is to send water by gravity into a basin, or propel it skywards by jets. In the past it would usually serve a dual function, both supplying drinking water and being a decorative feature. In other cultures it also had a religious significance.
The earliest fountain builders were possibly the Mesopotamians, who made a series of stone basins connected by a natural water source in about 3000 BC. Greeks and Romans employed similar systems, while mechanical fountains appeared in the Italian Renaissance.
Here in rural Andalucía, where most residents were dependent upon livestock, fountains began as water troughs for animals. The base of the fountain would be a long pileta (pond) carved of a single stone, while a backing would contain spouts and at times decorative carvings. Some of these fountains were made in the Visigoth era (after the Romans and before the Berber invasion). An example of this is a water trough in the village of Grazalema, which is still in use today.
People will still bring their horses to drink at the trough built by the old town gate in our neighbourhood. Farmers will also come and fill up jerrycans of water for their olive trees, as it is said to come from a special spring. Every farm we have visited here in Andalucía will have at least one of these piletas. With such an intriguing past, we agreed that our fountain needed to somehow reflect this part of our local history.
In addition to digging the stone troughs, we loved the warm sand colour of Ronda’s Tajo. Initially we wanted to make some walls in our home from the same stones, but since we bought a 3-meter wide ruin, we could not allow the extra padding of exposed rocks. Making a stone fountain became the solution.
Finding an ancient stone trough to fit into in the limited space available on our terrace turned out to be impossible. When we told this to our friend Juan, he suggested that we went to a former stone quarry in la Serranía to find a rock, and then to carve it ourselves. Never ones to say no to a challenge, we took off with Juan on a stone finding expedition a few days later. The quarry, like many rural businesses had had to close down due to lack of costumers. There were mountains of rocks to choose from. One could get lost in the piles, and these were just the broken rejects that had been pitched off the lot onto the nearest hillside.
Having the exact measure of our pileta to be and tape measure in hand, we finally found a rock that could do. We dragged the monster to Juan’s jeep, me of course bringing a few extra piedras along, heading back to his property where the real work was to begin.
Already having driven us to get the rock and helped carry it to the car and bring it to his property, Juan said that he might have a more suitable rock for us. It turned out to be an already chiselled stone that had once been part of an entrance arch. The stones were now a garden wall, but Juan persisted that we take one, while he would use the less perfect quarry stone in its place.
Before we knew it, he had wedged the rock out and fetched two different sizes of rotary saws. Though he was supposed to build a bench at his rural estate that day, he began to make vertical, horizontal and finally diagonal cuts in the rock, making it easier for us to dig out the hollow centre.
What would have taken us days with a hammer and a chisel now took us mere hours. The rest was almost a breeze, at least if one was used to working with stone, which neither of us were. I managed to swing the heavy hammer off target and ended up with a few blood blisters, but nothing that time wouldn’t heel. Miraculously, I still had all my fingers.
Driving home with our prized pileta, we left it in the car to wait until a couple of young and strong neighbours could help Jaime hew-hawing it into the space. I would not trust myself to lift it, even if I could do so. Manolo, our neighbour who is near 90 saw us arrive and asked to look at the rock. “Oh that! I can lift that on my own over my back”, he claimed. We said that we were sure that that was the case, but that we felt it was safer to wait until there were more available hands. Not Manolo. He began to shimmy the rock off the back seat giving Jaime barely time to grab onto the other end. They walked into our house, across the living room, past the kitchen and onto the terrace. I could not believe my eyes. Manolo’s hands and step did not falter as he carried the rock, dressed in his customary suit and black leather shoes. There was the typical rural Andalusian man of centuries past: low to the ground, strong as a toro and tough as nails.
Once we had our pileta into place, we began searching for rocks for the backsplash. This is no problem when one lives in rural Andalucía where every trail and field is covered in rocks. Juan let us have free range of his property, and we returned home with 10 kilos each in our backpacks.
Once we had enough material to choose from, some encrusted with fossils, I drew the shape on a piece of cardboard and plotted in the rocks like a puzzle on the ground (Once a designer, always a designer).
The only thing remaining was to get somebody to apply my rock puzzle onto the wall. Though half the neighbourhood told us how easy it was to do this ourselves, we wanted a pro, to assure that it would not collapse on us. We spoke to four different contractors, all promising to come and nobody showing up. Finally Salvador, a friend and handiman agreed to do it. I will be there at 10 am tomorrow he said, and five minutes to ten he was there, tools in hand.
In the morning he applied the rocks to the wall, and the same afternoon he came back to put in the sand coloured grout that we had requested. Presto, it was done.
Our fountain is the first thing we see when we enter our house and look out onto the terrace. Though the grout still needs drying and we still need to attach our solar powered water system, we cannot be more pleased. Like we had envisioned, it echoes the sandstone coloured cliffs around us, bringing a little bit of Ronda’s Tajo into our home. More importantly, it is a labour of love, not only by our own hands, but by the help of some of our wonderful rondeño friends and neighbours. Our fuente is already like a piece of Andalusian history, hecho a mano en Ronda.