In Spanish, this is called a pila or pilón. It's built out of stone or cement near a natural source of water (a spring or a stream) to hold the naturally-arriving water to make it convenient for people to fetch some water for personal use.

I have also seen them in the Italian alps, but I don't know what they're called there.

What can they be called in English? (either a single word or an attested phrase)

  • 7
    Perhaps the most common English equivalent is cistern, although such tanks are historically underground and used to store rainwater. What you are describing is a specific type of cistern. It's very beautiful! May 18, 2019 at 17:17
  • If water were actively pouring through it then it might be called a "sluice" in the US.
    – Hot Licks
    May 18, 2019 at 17:23
  • In a sluice, as I understand it, movement of water rather than storage is the essential function. May 20, 2019 at 1:15
  • I like cistern much better than trough. // Also, I was thinking about the Reflecting Pool at the Washington Monument. May 22, 2019 at 5:45

8 Answers 8


That would be a stone trough.

[Yes, I know, a trough in Spanish, for animals is an abrevadero, which is the same term in English: trough, like a pig or animal trough]

Here are all the images one might wish for:

images of stone troughs

Here is one:

from Rutland Garden Classics-Stone Trough

Gap Gardens

From the Real Academia Dictionary:

  1. f. Pieza grande de piedra o de otra materia, cóncava y profunda, donde cae o se echa el agua para varios usos.

A large piece made of stone or other material, that is concave and deep, where water falls or is put for various uses. I say trough for pieza because in English, trough is about the way it is made more than who drinks from it.

They can also be referred to as stone water tanks as in the British House and Garden publication about an Italian estate:

stone water tank

I just remembered that in Portuguese, a pila is a tanque, and that is tank for the same meaning in English.

  • watering trough would be more specific en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watering_trough
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 19, 2019 at 19:41
  • But it might not be a watering trough which is where animals drink. According to my other half who is from Spain, it can be for washing clothes, drinking or watering animals.
    – Lambie
    May 19, 2019 at 19:47
  • 1
    That looks like a place where either you drink or take a horse to drink from it. For washing clothes the structure should be different, it would be shallower, and have a slanted section with ridges (I think). google.com/…:
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 19, 2019 at 19:54
  • @Mari-LouA He's from Spain and knows his culture. I trust him over what one sees online. That is what he said to me: animals, people or clothes or just water storage. And the RAE definition in my answer actually confirms that. The point in English is that we don't have a specific word for open-air water holders other than trough, which is not necessarily for watering animals. That is why I thought stone trough was best.
    – Lambie
    May 19, 2019 at 20:30
  • I actually live in Italy and near where I live there is a public "fountain" where housewives used to wash clothes, the long sink is not as deep as the one shown in the OP and it was probably built in the 1900s but I suppose in the countryside if there was a place with a constant source of fresh running water maybe women folk would have washed heavier garments and bed sheets.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 19, 2019 at 20:37

First, I'll point out that several on-line "English" dictionaries include an entry for pila, so you have the option of just using that word, with equal fluency in both languages.

M-W says: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pila

Beyond that, word choice would be influenced by shape and intended usage. Some dictionaries define pila as a "stone horse-trough."

So if your stone pila is round, or square-ish, you might use basin. If the shape is much longer than wide, trough is the way to go. For something shaped like a chest (rectangular but not extreme), cistern is perfect as it derives from chest.

If the pila is elevated and shallow, consider font. If the source of the water is inside the pila, or captured so it feeds exclusively through the pila, you might use fount or fountain.

  • 3
    Pila is not an English word for trough. Few native English speakers will ever have heard the word. The M-W link above defines pila to mean a fountain not a trough. The other words given are OK but I'd note that the suitability of a word (such as cistern) comes from how it is used not how it is derived. May 19, 2019 at 14:31
  • Pila can be a water trough, water fountain or water tank.
    – Lambie
    May 20, 2019 at 20:03

Sometimes it is called a basin as described here.

enter image description here

Although basin is often used to mean a sanitary appliance, that is a specific use of its more general meaning.

  • That is a water fountain. Not a basin.
    – Lambie
    May 19, 2019 at 1:00
  • 1
    I would suggest it's a fountain feeding into a basin which drains over a weir or through a channel into a second basin. May 19, 2019 at 13:26
  • 1
    @Lambie the basin is the receptacle which is holding the water. There is no fountain in the picture. May 19, 2019 at 18:27
  • A basin can be the area a waterfall's water (geological etc.) flows into or a river basin (a wide area into which water moves). But this stone structure in the OP's question built on the ground is not one.These are: garden-fountains.com/products/siena-fountain There is the water spout and the basin, yes.
    – Lambie
    May 19, 2019 at 18:38

Cistern is precisely the right word. The house I formerly lived in had a similar tank in the basement to hold water piped in from a nearby spring, covered with a wooden lid to prevent mice from falling into it.

Because the spring was only a few feet higher than the level of the house, it didn't provide enough water pressure to reach the upper floors, so we had a water pump to pump the water from the cistern into the house. During a power outage, we could lift the lid and scoop out water for drinking and washing.


The general term for this in the US is a spring catchment. Catchments cover a lot of ground, it is a very generic term. They may be large or small; they may be buried, at ground level, or raised; and they may be covered or open.

Definition of catchment
1 : something that catches water
also : the amount of water caught
2 : the action of catching water

Catchment: Merriam Webster Online https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/catchment

With respect to springs, catchment is often used to refer to the entirety of man made improvements to the spring, so excavating the spring, and piping the excavation, and diverting surface influence is all part of the catchment system.

However, we also have a specific term the component in your picture. It's very technical. We call it a spring box.

A spring box with a headwall,

wing walls, and a concrete plinth

to prevent surface water from entering.

enter image description here


Second example

In many communities, natural springs exist as water flows from cracks in rocky ground or the side of a hill. Springs provide reliable water but that doesn’t mean safe. When left open they become contaminated by surface contamination, animal and human waste and rain runoff. The solution is to protect the source. First, you excavate around the exact source area of the spring. Then, you build a protective reservoir for water flow, which leads to a concrete spring box and collection area. Safe water typically flows year-round and there is very limited ongoing maintenance needed!

enter image description here



It would depend on the use.

What you are showing in your picture is not considered a pila in Central America, and this has become a point of confusion.

Pila may be a recipient of potable water from a natural source, but the main use is for washing clothes or cleaning pots and dishes. An actual pila looks like this... enter image description here

A pila has 2 basins, one for storing fresh water, and another with ridges for scrubbing clothes. Pretty much all homes have one here, or failing that, a public pila...

In Guatemala, pilón is not generally used (only means big pila).

It is not for animals to drink out of. Animals drink from an abrevadero, and is "trough" in English.

Cisterna, or cistern,

: an artificial reservoir (such as an underground tank) for storing liquids and especially water (such as rainwater)

-Merriam Webster>

...is a deposit of water in the ground, or at a higher level than the house to provide water by gravity in lieu of a pump, but usually covered. It is used for most household purposes.

Note that cisterna has another name--tanque, or tank.

It was suggested:


(from French réservoir – a "tank") is, most commonly, an enlarged natural or artificial lake, pond or impoundment created using a dam or lock to store water.

The best word for pila would be...pila. I do not think there is better word. Asking for this word in English is like asking for a better word for "taco", or "burrito".

...and, what you are showing in your picture is not considered a pila in Central America, and is a point of confusion.

It is either a cistern, or reservoir.


If the structure is designed to have water flow over its wall, and continue in a canal or stream, then it is a "drop" or "weir".

"Drop" is the term used by California "ditchtenders" for miniature dams that they use to create height differences in the surface of canal water. The ditchtender can insert planks, or adjust the heights of concrete beams, in order to control the height of the "drop" and the flow rate of the water over/through the drop. The remainder of the canal's water flow typically is diverted through a "gate" (that is located along the canal "above" the drop) into either a farmer's field or another canal.

If the structure is designed to be a dead end for water, it is an above-ground pool. In the United States, most above-ground pools are made of wood or plastic, and are filled via pipes or hoses. Jacuzzi is a brand of heated above-ground pools.


The phrase "drop boards" in this Dinuba Sentinel article about a California irrigation district's budget refers to the planks that ditchtenders place in the "drops" discussed above.

The first two uses of the word "drop" in this weed control plan refer to the "drops" discussed above.


If the water is for human consumption rather than animals then it could be called a drinking fountain. These come in many forms ranging from your description of a natural, near by water supply to one supplied from the building's or town's mains water supply. They can be any safe material, stone, concrete, ceramic or metal.

For animals it would be called a drinking or horse or cattle trough depending on its original intended use.


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