Piazza di Spagna

Piazza di Spagna (36)

The Piazza di Spagna has a curved form and is surrounded by ochre, cream and reddish buildings. Many films from the 1950s have some sequence or other set in this emblematic spot in Rome, full of tourists at any time of day and at any time of year. There was even a film called “The Girls of the Piazza di Spagna”, which showed how girls from all over came so that the artists of the time could appraise them, as well as prostitutes in search of tourists who were staying there. The flow of travellers also attracted beggars in search of charity. 

The square possesses one of the main attractions of the city: the Scalinata, designed by Francesco de Sanctis in 1720 to join the square with the French church of Trinità di Monti. In fact, calling it the “Spanish stairway”, as it is popularly known, would not be correct, since the area was formerly known as Piazza di Francia. Moreover, the money to build the stairway was provided by a French diplomat, as well as King Louise XV.

When the Spanish embassy established itself in the area, the square was divided in two sections: the triangle facing the Via de Babuino continued to be called Piazza di Francia, whereas the side opposite was given the name of Piazza di Spagna. 

The stairway is highly attractive at any time of year, but if you can visit it in spring you will find the beautiful stamp of the flowering azaleas that decorate it. Christmas sees a life-size nativity scene put on place. Additionally, on December the 8th the Pope visits the square to place a bunch of flowers by the figure of the Virgin Mary that is placed on a Roman column. This column was erected in 1857, when Pope Pious IX proclaimed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, for which the Virgin is the only person who was born without sin. 

Behind the column you will see the Palazzo di Propaganda Fide, which houses the Vatican Congregation for the Propagation of Faith. This building is considered a true masterpiece, the result of the work of two geniuses of the category of Bernini and Borromini.

At the foot of the stairway you will come across the Fontana della Barcaccia, attributed to Pietro Bernini, father of the famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini. This fountain is one of the least noticeable fountains in Rome and, if you look carefully, you will see that it contains some suns and bees, symbols of the Barberini family, who commissioned it to be built. You can also see that the water does not reach the fountain with much pressure, so it splutters out rather than in big jets.

The same artist who designed the stairway, De Sanctis, was also entrusted to design the two buildings that flank it. The one on the right is the Casina Rossa, where the English poet John Keats lived and died and which is now the Keats-Shelley House-Museum. Opposite you will find the popular Babington’s tea house. 

The Piazza di Spagna is also the heart of the main commercial district of Rome. One of the greatest spectacles of the city is the Under the Stars fashion show that is held here every July, when the top designers exhibit their creations with models descending the great stairway.

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