According to tradition, the mythical founder of Zancle, the ancient name of Messina, is the giant Orion, son of Poseidon. The most beautiful monument in the city is dedicated to him; the fountain by Montorsoli which the famous art critic Bernard Berenson described «the most beautiful in sixteenth century Europe».
Orion was a good-looking hunter much taller and stronger than other famous heroes. From his father he inherited the ability to walk on the sea keeping his feet dry. He performed great deeds and, as recounted by Diodorus Siculus, arriving in Sicily in the period when the city of Zancle, later known as Messina, was being built, he decided to direct the operations.
Legend has it that Orion oversaw the building of the sickle-shaped harbour and, to protect the city from the tides of the Strait, created Capo Peloro. He also had a temple dedicated to his father built, the god of the sea being greatly venerated by the people of the city.
After his death, Orion was placed by Zeus, the father of gods, among the stars, in the constellation bearing his name, the brightest in the northern hemisphere.
In Piazza Duomo in Messina you can see the fountain of Orion created between 1547 and 1551. The idea of building a fountain dedicated to the mythical founder of Messina was that of the humanist Francesco Maurolico, who also wrote the Latin couplets inscribed on it. The statue of Orion is at the top of the fountain, which has a pyramidal shape with the coat of arms of the city on a hemispheric stand supported by four putti.
The fountain stands on a twelve-sided polygonal base and there are four basins into which four male statues lying on their side pour water from amphorae. These statues represent four rivers: the Nile, the Tiber, the Ebro and the Camaro. The latter is a humble watercourse in Messina but is glorified alongside the more famous rivers because its waters were diverted to supply the first aqueduct built in the city.
Under the statue representing Camaro a gate of the city is sculpted with a female figure inviting the river into the city. Under each representation of a river there are Latin couplets explaining the sculpted symbols and bas-reliefs. To the sides of each one there are two oval plaques also decorated with figures. Eight dark stone sea monsters complete the marble basin.
In the centre of the basin, a prismatic cube has four winged mermaids at its corners. Other figures can be seen in the levels above. Triton-caryatids form the base of the first basin, with Renaissance style decorations. Water nymphs in graceful dancing poses support the second basin.
At the top of the fountain stands Orion with his dog Sirius. The mythical giant is holding his right hand open in a sign of greeting and his left hand is holding his shield, which bears the coat of arms of Messina. The earthquake of 1908 caused serious damage to the fountain and the upper part was destroyed. Patient restoration work was carried out to restore it to its original splendour.