Fountain Restoration in Lisbon

The Holiday Card

In June of 2018, I restored an historic fountain at our embassy in Lisbon. Though pleased with the outcome, I never imagined who else might notice!

In 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife visited the embassy. They were so impressed by the fountain that he and his wife chose it for the cover of their holiday card which went out to all State Department employees and contractors.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with the Director of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, Will Moser
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with the Director of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, Will Moser
The cover of the Pompeo family holiday card 2019
The cover of the Pompeo family holiday card 2019 - notice the face on the left is a detail from the fountain.
Detail of Pompeo Family Holiday Card
Inside of the card
Detail of Pompeo Family Holiday Card
Card cover detail of the Lisbon fountain


Decades of iron, calcium, lime and old darkened sealer heavily stained the antique tiles and marble features of the fountain. Plus, the plumbing leaked and the walkway around the fountain, made of white limestone, had darkened with moss and mold.

antique tile
Before restoration

Not knowing the best technique for cleaning antique tile, I sought guidance from one of Portugal’s leading handmade tile manufacturers, Viuva Lamego. Seeing my interpreter and surmising that I did not speak Portuguese, the director turned to me and tapped his teeth!


Like Cleaning Teeth

This was my introduction to the fine art of cleaning antique tile. It’s like cleaning teeth, and the best equipment for the job are dental tools. You can scrape the tile with metal and you won’t damage it at all. Just don’t tap or press on the surface or it will crack.

The careful work took several days followed by training for embassy staff so that they can wipe the fountain surfaces once a week to keep it looking fresh.

Detail of Restored Fountain at the US Embassy in Lisbon, Portugal by Bob Hannum Detail of Restored Fountain at the US Embassy in Lisbon, Portugal by Bob Hannum
Detail of Restored Fountain at the US Embassy in Lisbon, Portugal by Bob Hannum Restored Fountain at the US Embassy in Lisbon, Portugal
Restored Fountain by Bob Hannum


So, what’s the age of the fountain and who’s the face?

The property was a farm that goes way back: pre-16th century. It is one of the few that survived the great Portuguese earthquake in the early 1700s.

The property was then bought by a rich family who rebuilt and expanded the farm estate in the late 1700s. This is when the handmade tile was added, including what you see on the fountain. So, we know the date of the tile: late 18th century. The marble face and shell may be older.

The US State Dept bought the property in the 1980s, built the embassy, and restored several of the most important buildings. This fountain was moved at that time from another location on the farm. Extensive tile restoration was done at that time, most likely including the sealant that over time turned black.

This was my first visit to Portugal and I soon learned that ceramic tile, particularly the blue and white pattern covering this fountain, has a special place in the history of this country. Nearly every building in Lisbon is covered with them, and you can tell how old a building is just by the tile pattern.

The Moors introduced Islamic art and mosaic tile to the Iberian peninsula, now Portugal, in the 8th century. The story goes that the Portuguese King Manuel I was awestruck by the beauty of Moorish tile when he visited the Alhambra Palace in southern Spain. He immediately ordered that his palace in Portugal be similarly decorated. And so 'azulejos', originally white and blue ceramic tiles, were fully embraced by the Portugese even after the Moors were driven from Portugal in 15th century.


Here’s what I know about the face. It likely depicts one of two ancient gods, the Roman god of waterways, Oceanus, or the Lusitanian god of fountains, Duberticus.

Oceanus is an oft-depicted figure and face on European fountains. He is the primordial Titan god of the earth-encircling river Okeanos, the source of all the earth’s freshwater – river, well, and rain. He also regulates the heavenly bodies that rise from and set into his waters. His hair and/or ears and/or beard is often depicted with a wavy shell-like or water-like pattern as seen on the ears of this face and the crest of water over his head. Note the shell at the top of the fountain, supporting the idea that we’re looking at a figure associated with water.


The fountain, as with others on this property, was originally connected to an aqueduct system, and parts of the original aqueduct can still be seen on the property. It was fed by a well that is still on the property but now closed. We are proposing to open the well and use it once-again to feed all the fountains.

The face is made of marble as is the shell. The fountain top stones and the surrounding stones of the walkway are limestone which is prevalent throughout Portugal.


Neptune and Poseidon

So why isn’t the face Neptune or Poseidon, famous gods of water and oceans? Early on in Greek and Roman mythology, Poseidon and Neptune were distinct. Neptune was associated with freshwater and Poseidon, the sea. At some time in the BC era, Neptune and Poseidon became interchangeable as the god of the sea. When depicted in sculpture Poseidon and Neptune are never without a trident or similar motif, and there's no such image on this fountain.




Duberticus is the Lusitanian god of fountains. Lusitanian god worship centered around the area that now includes Lisbon and predates the arrival of the Romans circa 200 BC. There are no known existing images of Duberticus. However, this farm is very old and the fountain is original to the farm. Many Portuguese consider their proud heritage to be Lusitanian, and the Lusitanians fought off Roman rule for decades, so fountains in this area are least likely to depict anything related to Rome. This just may be the only existing depiction of Duberticus!

I just found this interesting related post info from 'VikingWidunder':

Dercetius/Dercetivs is the Lusitanian/Celtiberian deity of the mountains. This name is obviously its Latin equivalent, for the celts and lusitanians seldom left any epigraphic vestiges. When the Romans invaded the Iberian Peninsula, many deties had their names changed to latin, and so the people still worshiped their ancient gods but with new names and possibly new caracteristics. It is really hard to know the original name of this deity, because the Lusitanian language was celtic in its origins but very different from the Irish, Breton, Gaelic and so on, however, it sounded very similar to the Irish and some words match. The only word that I could find to match with "Dercetius" was the into-European word Derk-e/o, which means "see". It is possible that this deity is associated with seeing into the distance from an high point. He is the god of mountains, hills, summits and all kinds of geographical elevations. Most of the celtic settlements were near a mountain or hill, or actually built on top of an elevation. For the celts, most mountains and hills had a unique deity protecting and living in it, Duberticus for the Celts in the Iberian Peninsula was such a deity of a particular mountain range but also of all the mountains and hills in the land.

Update: May, 2020

I've writen to 'VikingWidunder' in hopes of tracking down his sources on Duberticus so stay tuned!

Also, May is Cultural Heritage Month at the US State Dept. The newsletter featured several restoration projects including two of mine. See the newsletter here:

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