By Sue Bjorkman
Many of St. Augustine’s historic sites are impossible to miss. It would be rare to visit the city and not notice the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument or the Bridge of Lions, for instance. Others, like the The Fuente de los Conos de San Francisco, are a lot more subtle. Discovering this fountain is a little like finding a hidden clue on a treasure hunt. Or better yet, being suddenly transported to Spain.
A replica of the Canos de San Francisco, one of the most renowned landmarks in Aviles, Spain, this whimsical site is an example of the bond between St. Augustine and its Sister City.
Tucked away in a shady spot between the Visitor Information Center and the Huguenot Cemetery, the baroque-style fountain has a front panel with six stone-carved masks, each with a different expression.
Water flows from their mouths into the rectangular basin below.
If not for the informational marker beside it, visitors might assume the fountain had been here since the city’s founding. That’s by design. But it is actually a fairly recent arrival.
In February 2005, the mayor of Aviles, the Honorable Santiago Rodriguez Vega, presented the molds of the masks to the City of St. Augustine as a Sister Cities gift. Each mask is a replica from the 16th century fountain in Aviles. Still a functioning fountain, it is one of Aviles’ oldest landmarks and a main draw in the Calle San Francisco area of that beautiful Spanish city.
After the masks were presented to then-St. Augustine Mayor George Gardner, the fountain itself was constructed out of a combination of wood, poured concrete, concrete block and coquina stone by the city’s facilities management group with assistance of the Parks and Streets Division. The construction took around three months to complete.
Tim Shields, facility group manager for the city, said they used some “tricks” to achieve the appropriately historic look. “We took a glue gun and ran beads of glue inside the form to make it look like cracks when it dried,” Shields said.
A buff-tan coloring was added to the grey concrete. Nature helped out, too. Because the fountain has a northern exposure and sits beneath large trees, mildew naturally grows to give it that desired antique look.
Shields said the fountain will never be pressure-washed either.
The fountain was officially dedicated in a public ceremony on Feb. 24, 2007. As a thank you, Mayor Joe Boles presented a photo of the replicated fountain to the Aviles mayor. The fountain now joins other historic and cultural monuments on the grounds, including the Old Spanish Trail Zero Milestone and the tile mosaic map.
The original Aviles municipal fountain would have been built for function and connected to a springs or aqueduct to channel water to Aviles. In St. Augustine, the replica fountain is purely ornamental and employs a recirculating pump. Visitors are not allowed to drink from its waters, but they are welcome to toss a coin in and make a wish. According to Visitor Information Center staff, that’s a favorite use for the fountain. People also like to rest on the nearby benches in this out-of-the-way spot.
The front panel of the fountain in Aviles has the royal Coat of Arms of Castille in the center and the Coat of Arms of Aviles on each side. St. Augustine’s version does not have these crests, but it is still a possible addition in the future.
Travel sites describe the fountain in Aviles as one of the most important, original and unusual in the city’s historic center. In St. Augustine, thanks to this sisterly connection and a creative team of builders, it is a wonderful way to take a quick imaginary trip not only to Spain, but also back in time.
Find the Fountain
What: Fuente de los Conos de San Francisco
Where: On the Visitor Information Center grounds, 10 W. Castillo Drive, between the VIC and the Huguenot Cemetery