Walking through Hampton Court gardens last month I was reminded, by my daughters, of how joyful a simple fountain can be.
But it was 25 years ago, when I first went to Australia, that I realised that water was more than just something that fell from the sky or genteely trickled from the nymphs and mermaids that populated the fountains in formal squares across London and the gardens of English stately homes.
With the use of carefully shaped nozzles all manner of shapes was apparantly possible and Aussie urban designers were taking this aquatic art to another level. Water could now dance across urban squares, not out of reach in formal gardens, but playfully and invitingly at the feet of passers by.
My little discovery was very quickly put into scale as, coincidentaly, the year I returned from Oz, Steve Wynn was demolishing the old Dunes hotel in Las Vegas with plans to build the Bellagio: a name now synonymous with the water show.
The Fountain show has come a long way and you can’t just point an arc of water at a pool of coy carp any more. My top three are:
- Well of course – it’s The Fountains of Bellagio! (Las Vegas, USA) The fountains, set in a 8 acre lake in front of the Bellagio hotel and casino, first danced their way into history on 15 October 1998 and have been entertaining the Las Vegas crowds, for free, ever since.
- The fountain shows in the Musical Gardens of the Palace of Versailles (Paris, France). Although fountain shows take place throughout the day during the summer months (April to October) the magic really happens on Saturdays between June and September, as the sun goes down and the gardens and fountains come alive with colourful and dramatic lighting effects and the water displays are complimented by music, lasers and fireworks. A wonderful show in the grounds of one of the most romantic palaces in the world – built by the Sun King himself.
- The Dubai Fountain. Now the world’s largest choreographed fountain, the real front row seat for a Dubai Fountain show is on one of the lake boats that take visitors into the very heart of the action. For everyone else the show is free but to get up close and personal you pay 65AED (or about £13)
Probably the saddest fountain show is in our very own Blackpool. It’s not sad because of its size (although it can only muster 25 jets), nor because of its limited choreography, but because, although the fountains were designed for audience participation, inviting people to run through and enjoy the feel of the cool water – just like those small street fountains I found in Australia a quarter of a century ago – just one year after it opened, the shows are no longer accompanied by the squeals of joyful children (of all ages) but the scowls of security guards as they make sure visitors obey the kill joys in the local council’s Health and Safety department!