Piazza and Porta del Popolo

Piazza and Porta del Popolo (40)

You are facing one of the most impressive squares in Rome, and since Roman times it has been one of the main entrances to the city.

This large oval-shaped public square is adorned with a large Egyptian obelisk that stands in its centre. This monolith was erected in Egypt around 1200 BC and was moved to Rome by Augustus, who placed it in the Circus Maximus. Domenico Fontana moved it to the Piazza del Popolo in 1589, at the orders of Pope Sixtus V. 

Pope Alexander VII commissioned Carlo Rainaldi to build the two churches that can be seen on either side. At first sight, you will think that they are identical, but in fact Santa Maria di Montesanto, on the left, has an oval-shaped cupola, while Santa Maria dei Miracoli has a round one.

In the semicircular areas you will see a pair of Travertine marble fountains in the form of large shells. These fountains were designed by Valadier, as well as the two large buildings which house the famous Rosati and Canova cafés. 

On the square you will also come across the Porta del Popolo. This triumphal arch was built in the 16th century at the behest of Pope Pious IV. You will be able to see a pair of figures of Saint Peter and Saint Paul on it, as well as the coat of arms of the Medici in their upper part. Later, Pope Alexander VII ordered Bernini to redecorate the interior part of the arch, before the visit to Rome of Queen Christina of Sweden, who had recently converted to Catholicism. 

It was in the Porta del Popolo where people had to wait in long queues to enter the city, and where their baggage was checked, something that in most cases ended up in bribery.

In fact, the square has quite a bloody history. In the 18th and 19th centuries it was the spot where public executions were held, which on many occasions took place during the carnivals. The last execution took place in 1826, when the guillotine had already been established. It was also here where the jockey-less horse races were held, in which the animals were subjected to cruel torture.

Finally, we should point out that the square has relatively recently been closed to traffic and become pedestrian-only.

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