Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona (54)

Piazza Navona is one of the world’s most beautiful squares, the long shape of which arose from the fact it was built on the former Stadium of Domitian. This stadium, which had a capacity for some 33,000 people, hosted athletics competitions. 

From the thirteenth century onwards, construction began on the surrounding buildings, houses and fortifications, which were later to be joined by palaces and churches.

In 1477, Pope Sixtus IV moved the central market here from the Campidoglio. The market remained in the square for some 400 years. Piazza Navona currently gets its spirit back in summer, with its street artists, and at Christmas, when it fills up with toy and sweet stalls. 

We suggest you enter the square from the south-east end, although it is a striking place from any perspective. 

Right in the centre is the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, or Fountain of the Four Rivers. This work was built by Bernini for Pope Innocent X Pamphili and was inaugurated in 1651. It features four giants that represent the four great rivers known at the time: the Ganges, the Danube, the Nile and Río de la Plata. It is said that the covered face of one of the statues symbolises Bernini’s feelings of rejection towards the nearby church de Sant’Agnese, which had been built by his great rival, Borromini. This story, however, is nothing but legend as the fountain was built several years before the church.

On one side of the square is the Fontana del Moro, designed by Della Porta, although it was Bernini who later added the figures of the dolphin and the Moor. The other fountain, to the north of the square, is the Fontana de Neptuno, also a work by Della Porta. The statues of Neptune and Nereid, however, were added in 1878.

You should also be aware that until the nineteenth century, every August the square was flooded with water from the fountains so that mock sea battles could be staged.

On one side of the Piazza Navona is the church de Sant’Agnese, which has already been mentioned. This was built on the site where it is said Agnes, a Christian maiden, was stripped naked in public for rejecting a Roman officer’s propositions. 

Next to the church is the Palazzo Pamphili, the work of Borromini and the Rainaldis. The palace is currently home to the Brazilian embassy. 

Art, street artist performances, painters and craftspeople all come together to create an atmosphere somewhere between popular and select; an essential experience while you sit at one of its terrace bars.

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