Talk about having to stop for an aperitivo, well this is exactly what we had to do whilst driving from Bagni di Lucca to Pistoia one afternoon this summer. However, this was an aperitivo with a difference. We weren’t attracted by any caffe/bar, rather it was the sight of a monumental sculptural fountain on the bend of the via Modenese road at Le Piastre in the Province of Pistoia that had stopped us quite literally in our tracks. We parked up close by then walked back to where the fountain was located. I gleefully thought that we’d discovered the source of Campari and had visions of filling up a bottle or two to take home!
The Fontana Campari (Campari Fountain) in Le Piastre in the Province of Pistoia was one of a series (of twelve or thirty depending on which source you read) commissioned by the Italian aperitif company Campari and sculpted by the Florentine sculptor Giuseppe Gronchi (1882-1944) during the late nineteen twenties and thirties. Gronchi is famous also for his contribution to the decoration of Milan central station amongst other works.
The first example of the Campari fountain was made of travertine and inaugurated in 1929 in Chiusi Della Verna. Interestingly I wasn’t too far off the mark with the hope of the Le Piastre fountain being a source of Campari since I later read that some people said that for a few hours during the inauguration of the fountain at Verna, real Campari actually flowed from the tap. Myth or reality I do not know for certain.
The fountain at Verna served as a combination of a piece of advertising, a work of art and a public utility function. Significantly it is considered to be one of the first examples of 3D advertising art.
In addition to the Campari fountains in Le Piastre and Chiusi della Verna there is a third surviving Campari fountain in Brunate, Lake Como. In contrast with the first example of the fountain these are made from cement and stucco.
The fountain at Le Piastre, with its massive heads (one male and one female) and column decoration, shows the influence of classical Rome as well that of the Viennese Successionists (art movement related to Art Nouveau).
Even today the Campari Fontana still managed to serve its purpose well on the advertising front since on arriving in Pistoia we made a beeline for the nearest caffe to enjoy this iconic red bitter aperitivo!