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Intesa of Fontecollina

Project by Madeline Stokoe and Ross Majewski
Project Description can be read here.

Intesa of Fontecollina

The Evolution of Knowledge, Place and Ritual

The following summaries are interpretations of artifacts discovered at the site of the Temple of Fontecollina, the site which at one time was a spring that provided water for the village there. It was also the setting for the Myth of Intesa and was home to a monument in her honor.

The Spring of Fontecollina and the Myth of Intesa

A small community, like many others, built their world around a source of water.

For years the women of the village of Fontecollina, on what we now call the Janiculum Hill, had gone to the spring to sustain life. This spring was so important to the survival of the people they entrusted its integrity to a man who built his home near by. When a young child made their first trip to the spring, they would ask where this water came from. He would only respond that “Clarity is found in the darkness of the spring and without the light from the world above there would be no darkness.” Children went to the spring to witness the magic of the continuous flow of water. Adults would sit at the spring and stare into the darkness, hoping for clarity.

One day, a young woman by the name of Intesa sat at the edge of the spring. Even in her young age, Intesa was seen as a source of knowledge throughout the community. She developed a deep interest in the mystical qualities of nature, ideas even her predecessors and elders had not yet grasped. As she sat by the spring she witnessed a spectacular moment. A ray of sunlight was split by the surface of the water and was refracted into its full spectrum of colors, projected for only a second on the rocks around the spring. This sparked a curiosity in Intesa, an interest in the ability of a transparent material, water, to manipulate invisible light. Intesa began a lifelong study of transparency; a knowledge that was guarded and expanded upon by the future generations of Fontecollina.

Over time, the spring evolved into a place that had much more meaning for the people of the village. It provided a setting for people to meet, discuss, contemplate, and mediate. It was a place of discovery and the quest for understanding. Once a year, on the day believed to be the anniversary of Intesa’s discovery, the people of the village held a celebration at the spring. This reminded the people of the meaning it contained, as a provider of life and a place to seek understanding. The people of Fontecollina told Intesa’s fable to anyone who would listen, and many people did. Outsiders, from the surrounding villages, visited the spring seeking clarity and understanding; hoping it would be given to them. However, they did not really know what they were looking for, or how to find it.

Slowly, the spring dried up. It happened over many lifetimes, but the people continued to gather at the site and celebrate it as a place of knowledge. The spring was not important for its water now, but because of what the place had come to mean.

When an innovative infrastructure brought water to the center of a low-lying flat expanse of land, the people from surrounding villages followed. No one could understand why the people of Fontecollina decided to remain isolated on a hill around a spring that no longer provided water; but at this point they did need the spring, it had become a part of their communal identity.

The Monument of Intesa

As time went on, people slowly forgot about the place as a spring and nature began to wear away and grow over its defining features. In order to insure the survival of the spring and its memory, the people decided to build a monument in a pit where the source of water had been. With rocks from around the spring, they shaped a round cylinder about a man’s height tall, and two in diameter. Open on the top and with an opening in the center of the floor to remind people of the water that once flowed from the darkness below; the water that clarified Intesa’s thoughts with a ray of sunshine.

The monument was carefully designed as a space. A visitor would descend down a small flight of stairs and turn into a short corridor, revealing the sunken space in front of them. One would then proceed down two more steps into the pit itself. When it would rain, water would collect in the pit up to a maximum depth of about a foot, where a drain at the end of the passageway would remove excess water. The spring would exist again until the water had evaporated.

The people of the village continued to gather at this monument, the memory of the spring flourished as contemplation, discussion, and enlightenment thrived for many more generations. Intesa’s progeny continued to investigate and understand the capacities and abilities of transparency and light. Visitors came from far away to seek this knowledge.

The village of Fontecollina, and outsiders alike, came to know the monument as a place for answering some of life’s most difficult questions. As the city below grew, people began to visit the monument in larger numbers. The people of the village were concerned with these new visitors. Did they know the significance of the monument? Why it existed and how it could enlighten? Or were they looking for simple answers to banal questions? Hoping that the answers would somehow be given to them; not understanding that it took contemplation and investigation within ones-self to find deeper understanding.

The Obscura

To preserve their past and protect their future the people of Fontecollina decided to conceal the monument from outsiders. They built a dome over the top to shield it from view and constructed an entrance concealed in the ground. They created an oculus at the peak of the dome to allow for direct sunlight to reach the old spring. During this period of darkness, the people of the village continued to expand their knowledge of light and transparency. Although it was rare, they were happy to enlighten anyone who was seeking a true understanding of their particular knowledge. Craftsman, builders, astronomers, and philosophers made the journey to Fontecollina to seek a greater understanding of transparency and light.

But despite their efforts, the people of Fontecollina had not deterred outsiders from seeking lifeless and superficial knowledge at their sacred site. Perhaps even worse, their own children were slowly losing the meaning of the spring.

The Temple of Intesa

Not wanting to discourage enlightenment, and accepting that people would not stop coming to their village to seek clarity, the people of Fontecollina decided to build a temple over the monument. The temple would attempt to guide the visitors to a proper “understanding” of how to seek enlightenment. It would serve as a reference to the past and to inform the future. The temple would hold the knowledge of light and transparency that the people of Fontecollina had uncovered since Intesa began her investigation ages ago.

The temple was designed to focus an individual toward the center, of the structure and themselves, in order to discover this knowledge. The circular plan, with the oculus of the Obscura at its center, has no beginning or end, suggesting the continuous evolution of understanding. The circle was divided into four quadrants, each symbolizing a particular time period in the history of the spring and the structures that honored it. These were: the spring itself, the Monument of Intesa, the Obscura, and finally the Temple.

Inside the Temple was a collection of four books, one placed in the window of each quadrant of the divided circle. These books contained the knowledge of transparency and light that was understood or was being studied at that stage. The quadrant that symbolized the spring contained a book that held the knowledge from Intesa’s discovery up to the point before the building of the monument. The book in the next quadrant, the quadrant of the monument, contained a book that held the knowledge from that point up to the time when the Obscura was built. In the next quadrant was the book that contained the knowledge that was known and studied during the period of the Obscura. And finally, in the quadrant that symbolized the time period of the temple, was the book that had the most recent studies and inquiries.

Within the Temple, there was a stone table and a stone plinth that a chair sat on. A student of transparency and light would enter through the opening dividing the quadrant of the spring and the quadrant of the Temple, remove the book from the window niche in the quadrant he was studying, and take it to the table to read. When he had finished reading, he would return the book to the window niche then exit out the door immediately following the quadrant he had taken the book from. When a scholar had completed his studies of transparency and light, he could then exit out of the door he came in.

On the outer wall of each of these quadrants are two niches. These niches contained artifacts, now held by the protectors, that symbolized the progression of the knowledge of transparency and light. The spring quadrant contained a statue of Intesa, the subject of the myth, and a bowl of water from the spring at which she made her discovery. The niches in the next quadrant, the one of the monument, contain stone and another statue of an unnamed figure. The stone, one from the original spring, symbolized the building of the monument. The statue is considered to be a memorial to all of those who made important discoveries during this time period. The next quadrant, the Obscura, had niches that held another unnamed figure, for the same reason as the first, and sand. The sand symbolized the earth that had been placed on top of the monument, hiding it from the world. The final quadrant, the Temple itself, contained a glass artifact, to symbolize the expanse of knowledge relating to transparency and light, aspects that were also influential in the formation of the Temple’s own windows. A niche in this quadrant also contained a third unnamed statue, to symbolize the people of that period, and the future, who made important contributions to the field. These anonymous statues suggest that without the generations that continued and expanded the search for knowledge we would not be where we are today.

Outside of the temple is a circular portico, supported by columns. The columns are placed to allow light to enter the windows and shine on the niches. As a student, an individual would be required to walk around the portico. This was to introduce them to a broad history of this place and the progression of the knowledge of light and transparency before focusing on the details contained in the Temple. The portico was also a transition between the outside world and the knowledge contained within the Temple, to remind user of why it existed.

The Temple was oriented in a way that allowed a special event to occur. Each quadrant contains a window, a window that allows light to pass though but obscures the view through it, furthering the idea of inward focus. Once a year, on the anniversary of Intesa’s discovery, sunlight shines directly through the window in the quadrant of the spring. The light is then broken up into its color spectrum by the glass, shines down the oculus of the Obscura, and is reflected onto the glass that symbolizes Intesa’s spring, and the moment of her discovery is recreated, even to this day.

The Institute

Again, the temple grew in popularity and many more visitors came to it. In fact so many came and were present that they were distracted by each other and lost focus at the once special place. It was no longer a spring that had given life to a village. It wasn’t seen as a gathering spot, a place for discussion and contemplation. Even the monument couldn’t remind people of what had been. A place built for ritual to guide people to understanding, the Temple, had lost its meaning. So many people gathered at the place that they were distracted with one another. Meaningless discussion took the place of inner thought and deep conversation. Social networking replaced the quest for knowledge and understanding. The people of Fontecollina, now seen as primitive and archaic, felt the need to protect the once sacred place.

In a defiant act of possession, the people of the village built a fort-like structure around the temple. A place they could watch the Temple from, and regulate those who were allowed to occupy the special place. The only contact allowed for most outsiders was the visual connection through an arch way spanned by a locked gate. The outsiders were angry at first. Who did these people think they were? That they could lock up a place that had become a hub for their social interaction.

The descendents watched over the sacred space day and night and it again became a place that facilitated the quest for knowledge. They continued to teach to those who truly searched for the knowledge of transparency and light but over time even this was lost. They had spread the knowledge to different corners of the world, corners that became known for their own kind of knowledge on the subjects of transparency and light. So as the knowledge expanded people, gradually moved to other places to acquire it. When there was no need for the Temple anymore, the keepers of the Temple stripped it of its valuable artifacts and symbols. Eventually, they realized that this place should not be kept from the world but that it should once again be accessible to world. The keepers of the Temple decided to slowly reintroduce it to the world, allowing us to visit to this day. The artifacts and symbols are gone; the students are gone. But this sacred place still remains. One that reminds us of what used to be there and why this place was important for so many lifetimes.