Piazza di Spagna : a piece of Spain in the Italian state

Piazza di Spagna. Piazza di Spagna in Rome

Piazza di Spagna is named after the building of the Spanish embassy located there.

At the center of piazza di Spagna is the Barcaccia fountain (La Barcaccia, “The boat”, Pietro Bernini, 1629). The legend preserved that the fountain represents an old boat, brought to the square during the flood of the Tiber in 1598.

Creation history

The architectural landmark is located in the center of the Italian capital in the Campo Marzio district. According to historical tradition the area was allocated to accommodate foreign immigrants and visitors to the capital. On the hill, from which the square originates, the natives of France settled. In the first half of the 16th century, the Trenita dei Monti Cathedral was built on the site. Church ceremonies in the temple are performed in French.

Later the territory of the square was occupied by English settlers. The historical tradition is related to the presence in the location of many hotels, hotel complexes, which attracted the citizens of foreign countries.

Spanish settlers began to occupy the territory at the beginning of the XVII century. By this period, the state of Spain bought under the representation of the castle with rich decoration (Monaldeschi). Over time, for the Romans and visitors to the city, the place acquired the name Spanish Square.

The Baroque staircase also bears testimony to the Spanish settlers. The construction has 138 steps and leads from the square to the temple of Trinita dei Monti. The square is at the base of the staircase, the slabs have different configurations and are lined with travertine.

According to historical tradition, events are held in the area, fashion shows are organized and feature films are shot. In the spring, flower shows are held on the stairs, presenting varieties of azaleas, roses, tulips, etc. In the weeks leading up to New Year’s Eve, colorful Christmas performances are organized in the architectural ensemble.

A bit of history

Despite its name, dedicated to the Spanish embassy in the Vatican, the square has clear French “roots.” Back in the 15th century, the French King Charles VIII founded the monastery of the Order of the Minimites, which was the first construction of the square. Later, his successor Louis XII added the Church of the Holy Trinity to the monastery. Only 100 years later the Spanish Embassy moved into the area. We will not describe in detail the twists and turns of the complex relationship between Spain and France. Everything ended at the beginning of the 18th century with the strong alliance, in honor of which the Spanish Steps were built, on the steps of which today all the guests of Rome have a rest.

The stairs lead from the foot of the Pincio hill to the French church of La Trinité des Monts, and its construction was only completed thanks to the funds of the French diplomat Etienne Geffier.

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An interesting fact! Since 1700, the throne of Spain belongs to the French Bourbon dynasty, so in a diplomatic sense there is a “French trace” on the square as well.

Sightseeing

Architectural composition of the square has an unusual configuration, because it combines two spaces (trapezoidal shape and unequal triangle). The design of the elements is predominantly baroque. The main historical complexes are represented by the Barcaccia fountain, the long staircase and the temple of Trinita dei Monti.

Surrounding the square are the elegant and architecturally original houses, preserved since the eighteenth century. Next to the structure of the fountain is the palace Di Propaganda Fide, owned by the Roman church. In front of the entrance to the castle is a column of 11 m high with an elegant figure of the Virgin Mary on a pedestal and a sculptural composition of biblical saints at its base.

The Spanish Steps in Rome are among the symbols of the Italian capital. The Baroque-style landmark consists of more than 130 steps leading from the central part of the square to the picturesque hill and the Pincio Gardens. The complex offers a panoramic view of Rome. The steps of the landmark have a concave configuration.

The project of the construction was proposed to equip the passage to the temple, which was under the patronage of the kings of France. The construction was realized with funds left by the French subject E. Geffier, who was a diplomat for many years.

The competition for the project was organized in 1717, and by the decision of the committee the construction of the object was entrusted to the famous sculptors A. Spekke and F. de Sanctis. Construction began in 1723 and was completed in 1726. The composition became a symbol of political reconciliation of the French and Spanish states.

In the decoration of the steps the arms symbols of the Bourbon family (lilies) and signs of papal authority (tiara, eagle) are used. The raw material for the stairs is stone (travertine). The width of the slabs varies along the course of the staircase from narrow to wide, and the size of the spans varies as well. The restoration of the historic site was carried out at the end of the 20th century (1997).

The Barcaccia fountain is located at the base of the Spanish Steps. The architectural project was realized by P. Bernini in the first half of the XVII century on the request of the Roman authorities. The landmark in the Baroque style is made in the form of a half-submerged ship. The original design solution bears the name Barcaccia (translated from Italian as “barque”), which was assigned to the project as evidence of a flood that occurred at the end of the 16th century (1598). Water flows into the structure from the Aqua Virgo canal.

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The architectural solution involved solving the technical difficulties of bringing water to a section of the hill. Berini solved the problem by creating a semi-submerged tank in which he inscribed a sunken vessel. The bottom of the fountain is recessed, the stern and bow have the same dimensions and proportions, as they are raised above the side edges. In the central part of the composition the balustrade supports a tub of oblong shape, from which water jets flow out and enter the lower part of the composition.

Water streams also follow from 6 other openings directed to the container in the center of the vessel. The composition is decorated with the emblems of the Roman church (tiara, bees) on the outer sides of the ship.

Church of Trinità dei Monti

The Church of Trinita dei Monti, which completes the Spanish Steps, is built on an elevated site. In front of the church is an obelisk of Sallustius 14 m high. On the left side of the church stretches the alley of the same name, famous for the castle of the Medici family located in the area. The building was built in the 16th century, a few decades later it was taken over by the French state and given to the Academy of Fine Arts.

The fashion center of Rome

Spain Square is not only an architectural landmark. Later it became the center of fashion shows. From the square stretch streets with stores of sought-after clothing brands. Famous Italian fashion designers have studios and galleries in Via Condotti, adjacent to the square. These brands are Valentino, Gucci, etc. The square is recommended as the start of a journey to buy fashionable clothes in the Italian capital.

From the square take the streets, where the picturesque works of contemporary Italian masters are presented. According to the historical tradition, the alleyways are placed art workshops and talented writers, poets, etc. reside here. Stendhal rented an apartment in a house in Via Condotti and Nikolai Gogol lived in building № 17 in Via San Isidoro. In the house next to the Spanish Steps the poet D. Keats rented a house in 1821, the museum exhibition is still running, the mansion is called the “House of Keats.

Piazza di Spagna

Getting here is easy, take the metro to the Spaqna station. It is a favorite vacation spot of residents, an exclusive open-air showroom with boutiques of the most prestigious fashion houses Dior, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana. An Italian with Spanish roots, as the Romans call her. Bathed in sunlight, the elegant piazza, which resembles an hourglass, happily welcomes many tourists. On the right side is the museum of John Keats and Mary Shelley, the English poets. After contracting tuberculosis from his dying brother, young John came to Italy with the hope of recovery. It was not destined to happen, the 25-year-old romantic’s life was cut short within these walls. It just so happened that Byron lived in this house. Not far from here, in Via Condotti, Stendhal lived. Near the square was Gogol’s apartment. How did it attract poets and artists, why was it called Spanish? All thanks to the Palazzo di Spagna, the former residence of the Spanish ambassador, located here. Just in front of the embassy rises majestically a column. What is it?

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How to get there?

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What’s so famous about Piazza Española in Rome? What to see, what’s interesting about the Bernini staircase and fountain. Other sights, photos, and reviews.

One of the remarkable squares in Rome, Piazza della España, is best approached from the Via del Corso. From here begins the via dei Condotti, the perspective of which closes the stairs going up the steep slope of the Pincia hill. The French church of Trinita dei Monti is a jewel on the hill. Its two towers, topped with hexagonal domes, and the obelisk, transferred in 1789 by order of Pope Clement XII from the gardens of Sallustius, stretch their tops up into the heavens. This picturesque scene is completed by the fountain at the foot of the stairs.

But before describing all that surrounds Plaza España, let us say a few words about the history of the place.

Church of Santa Maria del Popolo

Like other squares in Rome, del Popolo is surrounded by churches. The oldest church on the square is Santa Maria del Popolo, built in the 11th century by Pope Pasquale II. If you believe the legend, the church was built on the burial place of Emperor Nero. The church was built on the donations of the Roman people, so it was called a people’s church (popolo means “people”). The same name was given to the square as well.

In 1472-1477, by order of Pope Sixtus V, the church was reconstructed. In 1655-1660, the famous Lorenzo Bernini redesigned the facade of the church, adding Baroque elements. This facade is still admired today.

The church is mentioned in the novel Angels and Demons by D. Brown.

Piazza del Popolo

Church of Santa Maria del Popolo (Santa Maria del Popolo), view from the side

Spain Square – History

The name of the square is due to the embassy that was stationed there in XVII century. However, at that time Piazza de España was only known as the southern part, which was by the embassy. The northern part was called the Place de France, because that country’s embassy was located there.

Plaza de España is unlike any other square in the world and has a unique shape. Fashion designers call this shape – a fitted silhouette. It narrows in the middle (at the waist) and then expands again. Apparently, this is one of the reasons of Couturier’s love for the square, but about that later.

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The Staircase-Podium .

This place attracts not only tourists, the square is a favorite meeting place for young people. In the spring, a collection of flowers is displayed on the 138 steps of the Spanish Steps. The travertine staircase, which is shaped like a filled cup, comes alive with all the colors of fresh flowers. This staircase was built with money from the French ambassador Etienne Geffier. Today it is one of the widest and longest staircases in Europe.

In the summertime the steps of the Spanish Steps turn into a catwalk for the demonstration of Italian fashion. In the evening the sunsets fade and are replaced by multi-colored spotlights, illuminating the moving figures of models dressed by Italy’s top couturiers.

During the daytime hours, it is a meeting place. People sitting on the steps, chatting, relaxing and admiring the beautiful view spread out at the foot of the hill. And in winter, the staircase that adorns the Plaza de España becomes a stage for theatrical performances of nativity scenes.

Tips for tourists

It is better to come to the Plaza de España twice. One during the day when on the steps of the stairs you can rest from the tiresome but fascinating shopping in the fashionable Via Condotti. Here you can find boutiques of brand name clothing from Italian fashion houses, antiques stores and paintings, among which you can find real masterpieces of Italian artists.

For the second time, return to this place at night. Beautiful lighting and lively conversation will help you better feel the atmosphere of the Italian capital. Here, romantic and business dates are arranged, open-air exhibitions and theatrical performances are held. And don’t miss the Flower Show, which brings spring to a close. In the vicinity of Spain Square you can find many other interesting places:

  • Happy Street, where N.V. Gogol wrote the first volume of Dead Souls.
  • The Kildes and Shelley House Museum, dedicated to the English poet and his friend, the creator of the image of Frankenstein.
  • The house-museum of the artist Giorgio de Chirico.
  • The English Tea Room, which has been welcoming guests since 1893.

Learn more about this and much more on the tour. Find the schedule and cost of the tour on the official website of Sputnik.

Barcaccia Fountain

The fountain in the center of the square at the foot of the Staircase, called the Barcaccia Fountain, is no less interesting. In 1598, the overflowing Tiber flooded most of Rome. One of the boats detached from the jetty was carried to Piazza di Spagna. Inspired by these events, a fountain was built at the request of Pope Urban VIII, with that half-submerged boat as its prototype. Pietro Bernini worked on the project. The fountain became one of the master’s most famous works.

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Slowly flowing water flows into it through the aqueduct Aqua Virgo, built back in the 1st century BC. The fountain decorated the Plaza de España at the end of the thirties of the seventeenth century.

When you first see Piazza de España you will know that the most striking elements are the staircase and the fountain. We already know a lot about them! But there are still many interesting places and buildings that are worth paying attention to.

So, what else to see in the Plaza de España:

  • If you’re facing the stairs, the house where the English poet John Keats spent the last days of his life rises along the steps to its right . This building is now a museum. In it you can see not only exhibits related to the poet, but also to the English culture of the Romantic era;
  • Just above stands the Palace of the former Cardinal Lorenzo de Cubo . Built in the 15th century, the palace underwent reconstruction in 1936. It has a facade which was changed and perfectly blends in with the general view of the square thanks to the architect Marcello Piacentini, who was Rome’s chief architect during the Fascist regime;
  • To the left of the staircase is a building that has housed an English tea house since 1896. All the rules of English tea-drinking are still observed in this unusual establishment;
  • In the southeast part of the Plaza de España is a column. On its top is a figure of the Virgin Mary. On a pedestal at the foot of the column are the figures of the prophets: Moses, Issaiah, Ezekiel and David. The column “found a place” in the square in 1856 and is dedicated to the biblical story of the Immaculate Conception. Every year, on December 8, the day of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Pope comes here. A wreath made of white lilies, brought by the pope, is placed on the arm of the Virgin Mary. At this time, the Spanish square is filled with people who not only want to share the feast with the faithful, but also to look at this sacred spectacle. This wreath hangs all year long, until the next visit of the Pope;
  • Not far from the square on Via Felice (which translates as “Happy Street”), in house number 26, Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol lived for nine years from 1837. It was in Rome that he learned to cook spaghetti and surprised his friends with this dish when he came to Russia. It is also where the first volume of Dead Souls was born.

One of the fast food restaurants, McDonald’s, is also open on Spain Square. We by no means recommend you to satisfy your hunger in establishments like this one. However, coffee and other essentials

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