In landscape architecture and garden design, a water feature is one or more items from a range of fountains, pools, ponds, cascades, waterfalls, and streams. Before the 18th century they were usually powered by gravity, though the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon are described by Strabo as supplied by an Archimedean screw. Other examples were supplied with water using hydraulic rams.
Since the 18th century, the majority of water features have been powered by pumps. In the past, the power source was sometimes a steam engine, but in modern features it is almost always powered by electricity. There is an increasing range of innovative designs as the market becomes more established and people become more aware of alternate installation methods, such as solar power. The advantages of using solar power include environmental benefits, no electrical lines in the garden, and free energy.
Modern water features are typically self-contained, meaning that they do not require water to be plumbed in; rather water is recycled from either a pond or a hidden reservoir, also known as a sump. The sump can either be contained within the water feature, or buried underground (in the case of an outdoor water feature).
A water feature may be indoor or outdoor and can be any size, from a desk top water fountain to a large indoor waterfall that covers an entire wall in a large commercial building, and can be made from any number of materials, including stone, granite, stainless steel, resin, and glass. Most water features are electronically controlled, ranging from simple timer actuators to sophisticated computerized controls for synchronizing music to water and light animation.
A fountain (from the Latin "fons" (genitive "fontis"), a source or spring) is a piece of architecture which pours water into a basin or jets it into the air to supply drinking water and/or for a decorative or dramatic effect.
Fountains were originally purely functional, connected to springs or aqueducts and used to provide drinking water and water for bathing and washing to the residents of cities, towns and villages. Until the late 19th century most fountains operated by gravity, and needed a source of water higher than the fountain, such as a reservoir or aqueduct, to make the water flow or jet into the air.
In addition to providing drinking water, fountains were used for decoration and to celebrate their builders. Roman fountains were decorated with bronze or stone masks of animals or heroes. In the Middle Ages, Moorish and Muslim garden designers used fountains to create miniature versions of the gardens of paradise. King Louis XIV of France used fountains in the Gardens of Versailles to illustrate his power over nature. The baroque decorative fountains of Rome in the 17th and 18th centuries marked the arrival point of restored Roman aqueducts and glorified the Popes who built them.
By the end of the 19th century, as indoor plumbing became the main source of drinking water, urban fountains became purely decorative. Mechanical pumps replaced gravity and allowed fountains to recycle water and to force it high into the air. The Jet d'Eau in Lake Geneva, built in 1951, shoots water 140 metres (460 ft) in the air. The highest such fountain in the world is King Fahd's Fountain in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which spouts water 260 metres (850 ft) above the Red Sea.