Piazza Navona in Rome
Piazza Navona is without a doubt the most elegant and sunny corner in Rome. In ancient times this stretch of land in the capital was a stadium for athletic competitions. But today, visitors to Rome admire the splendid Baroque fountains and medieval churches.
In 80 AD, the Stadio di Domiziano was built in Rome. This building was a gift of Emperor Titus Flavius (Titus Flavius Domitianus) to the inhabitants of the capital. More often than not it was used for sporting events.
The second name of the stadium is the Arena of Agones (from the ancient Greek “ἀγών” – “competition”). It is to this term that Piazza Navona owes its name. In the first centuries of our era the stadium was called “campus agonis”, closer to the Middle Ages the term was transformed into “n’agone”. Eventually the name was simplified to “navona”.
The size of the ancient stadium was impressive – 275 by 106 meters, the number of spectators was 15 thousand! It was richly decorated inside and out. In the arches around the stadium there was a tavern trade and entertainment facilities. It is noteworthy that one of the brothels near the stadium was later turned into a church.
- Read also about the Olympic Stadium in Rome (Stadio Olimpico).
Early Christian period
Church of Santa Maria del Sacro Cuore
On the north side of Piazza Navona stands the Church of Santa Maria del Sacro Cuore (Nostra Signora del Sacro Cuore). The church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was built on the ruins of Domitian’s stadium in the twelfth century. The money for the construction of the temple was bequeathed by King Ferdinand III of Castile. From the 16th to the 17th centuries the basilica had the status of a national Spanish church in Rome.
In the 19th century, thanks to the efforts of Pope Leo XIII, the church of Santa Maria del Sacro Cuore was restored. The entrance to the building was moved from the inner streets of the capital to Piazza Navona. The decoration of the church altar and many of the paintings inside the temple were done by the Renaissance painter Francisco de Castello.
Piazza Navona is the most outstanding example of baroque art one can find in Rome. The Baroque era came to this corner of the capital thanks to the Pamphilj family. At the end of the XV century one of the representatives of this family bought three ancient houses standing on the square. A century and a half later, Giambattista Pamphili took the title of pope and took the name of Innocent X.
The pope decides to build a family palace in the southern part of Piazza Navona. To this end he hires a baroque architect, Girolamo Rainaldi. Thanks to this master, the Palazzo Pamphilj had such an elegant façade. Francesco Borromini decorated the palace inside. The Pope presented the magnificent Roman mansion to his relative Olimpia Maidalchini.
Palazzo Pamphili boasts 23 rooms and a beautiful gallery that runs through the entire first floor of the mansion. The vaults of the gallery were painted in 1651 with frescoes by Pietro da Cortona. In 1672, the church of St. Agnes, where Pope Innocent X was buried, joined the palace. Today the palace houses the Brazilian Embassy.
The legend of Agnes of Rome
There is an entertaining story about the life of a Roman girl named Agnes.
The beautiful maiden lived in Rome in the third century A.D. She accepted the Christian faith and prepared to dedicate herself completely to the church. Unfortunately, the prefect of Rome was in love with her, and he was loath to hear of her rejection. Angered at the pious Agnes, the official ordered her to be stripped naked and sent her like this to a brothel that flourished near Domitian’s stadium.
The intercessors did not leave Agnes in her hour of need; her loose hair helped shelter her from the burning eyes of the crowd. Angels brought a snow-white robe, which the faithful Christian woman donned. In the brothel, the girl was also under the protection of the faith, all the Romans left the room of the captive in shame. In January 304, the unbroken Roman woman accepted a martyr’s death at the hands of soldiers.
In the middle of the XVII century, a church was built in honor of Agnes of Rome at the same place where the ancient house of tolerance was located. Sant Agnese in Agone is an elegant white basilica in Baroque style.
The façade of the church faces Piazza Navona, inviting travelers to peek inside. The head of Saint Agnes is kept in the church as a revered relic.
Piazza Navona in Rome is adorned with three Baroque fountains.
Fountain of the Four Rivers
At the center of the square is the Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi), in which the waters of an ancient Roman aqueduct splash. It was built in 1648-51 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. It was built by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1648-51.
Initially an imitation of an ancient Egyptian obelisk was placed in the center of the square. In this way the Pamphili family tried to give more importance to their possessions. Then a talented architect found a way to advantageously beat the 16-meter stone column. The elegant baroque fountain was adorned with statues of river deities patronizing the Nile, the Danube, the Ganges and La Plata.
Bernini vs Borromini
The true adornment of the square is the temple of St. Agnes, elaborately decorated in Baroque ligature. The basilica was built to an architectural design by Francesco Borromini. Opposite the facade of the church is the most impressive of the three springs, the Fountain of the Four Rivers. At one time Borromini and Bernini worked together until a struggle for powerful clients upset their collaboration.
A popular legend among Roman guides is that the rivals managed to embody their animosity in the decoration of the capital’s landmarks. Sculptures of husbands embodying the four rivers allegedly defiantly turn away from the church facade. And the statue of St. Agnes looks condemningly from its height at the sculptural group of the famous fountain.
In fact, the fountain was built 21 years earlier than the church. The malice on Bernini’s part is an obvious fabrication. As, indeed, is the excessive austerity of the countenance of Agnes of Rome. Although, one must admit, the legend is quite entertaining.
In the north of Piazza Navona is the Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune). It was built in 1574 by Giacomo della Porta. The original incarnation of the fountain was modest and contained no ornaments. Only at the end of the XIX century a simple stone pool filled with water was decorated. A powerful figure of a sea god slaying an octopus with his trident added to the character of the city water reservoir. The sculptural group of the Neptune Fountain was created by the architect Antonio della Bitta.
The Moor Fountain
In the southern part of the square is the Fountain of Moor (Fontana del Moro). This man-made water body appeared in 1576, designed by the architect Giacomo della Porta. Originally in the waters of the fountain were installed four stone newts. In 1654, however, the Moor’s fountain was reworked by the master Bernini.
Commissioned by Olimpia Maidalchini, the fountain acquired a more secular gloss. In the center of the fountain grew a figure of the Moor competing with a dolphin.
The Palazzo Braschi appeared in Rome in 1792. A close relative of Pope Pius VI decided to have a family palazzo overlooking Piazza Navona.
Cosimo Morelli designed the architectural project and oversaw its construction. However, the invasion of Bonaparte froze the finishing work until 1811. The Braschi family lost their rights to the palazzo, and it took a long time for the Italian government to find a use for the luxurious structure.
Since 1949, Palazzo Braschi was used as a refuge for 300 Italian families. In 1952 the palace was granted the status of a museum of Rome. It is noteworthy that near the building stands one of the ancient Roman “talking” statues, dating from the second century B.C.
The figure, called Pasquino, at one time expressed the attitude of ordinary Romans to the official authority. In the Middle Ages, the foot of the statue became an anonymous board for denunciations-pasquevilles.
The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:00 to 19:00, the ticket price is 9 euros. Official website: www.museodiroma.it/sede/palazzo_braschi
Modern life of the square
Since ancient times fairs and tournaments have been held in front of Domitian’s stadium. In the Middle Ages Piazza Navona became a place for religious processions and celebrations. Since the 15th century, for four centuries, the area became the site of weekly fairs.
Nowadays, Piazza Navona hosts the Christmas fair “Befana di piazza Navona” once a year. At other times this corner of the capital is coveted by tourists who want to gaze at the Baroque fountains and the huge obelisk. The souvenir shops along the square will help visitors keep memories of Rome and its beauties.
How to Get There
Getting to Piazza Navona is easy, as it is surrounded by the main Roman landmarks.
Piazza Navona is a place of fountains and palaces.
One of the most beautiful squares in Rome is Piazza Navona. There are two medieval churches to visit, as well as museums. And admire the work of Italian sculptors who created three beautiful fountains. Buy souvenirs, and have a good time.
Navona, Rome’s largest piazza, is where the Christmas market is held. This place is loved by creative people – musicians and artists. The former often arrange performances, while the latter are always ready to paint a portrait to order. A brief description and photos of the sights of the square are present in all brochures of the Italian capital.
Where is Piazza Navona
The square is located in the central part of Rome, about 500 meters from the Pantheon.
How to get there :
- By bus – line 64 to stop Vittorio Emanuele, line 87 to stop Colosseo;
- Metro (line B) to Barberini.
The history of Piazza Navona
The history of the square goes back to the Roman times. The beginning of the building is called 46 B.C. Originally, on this place was stadium, built by order of Julius Caesar. There were gladiatorial fights and sports competitions on the arena. Many historians think that the name of the square comes from the word “agona”, which is translated from Greek as “contest”.
Under Emperor Domitian, the area of the stadium was enlarged. Wikipedia indicates the following dimensions: 275 m x 106 m, the capacity – 15 thousand people. At the same time the structure was decorated with statues of gods and heroes, bas-reliefs. Next to the stadium there were a lot of shops and a few brothels. It was a noisy place.
During the Middle Ages both the purpose of the place and its appearance changed. A square appeared on the site of the arena, where Christian festivals were held. Churches were erected. One of them was built on the site of a former brothel. It was named after the martyr Agnes, who was recognized as a saint. The story of this young girl is very tragic.
The Church of Agnes
Agnes was young and beautiful, accepting Christianity, the girl vowed to devote her life to God. One of the high-ranking officials of Rome was attracted to the young beauty, but was rejected. The official turned out to be vindictive, and the girl was sent to a brothel. There a miracle happened – when Agnes was naked in front of the men, her hair instantly grew and covered her body like a cloak. Those brothel visitors who tried to approach the saint immediately lost their manhood and fled in terror. Agnes was accused of witchcraft and sentenced to be burned. On the day of her execution, the fire could not be kindled and the girl was stabbed to death by one of the guards.
From the Middle Ages to the 18th century
The main sights of the square, which have survived to this day, were built in the Baroque period and are associated with the noble Roman family – Pamphili . In the fifteenth century, the family owned three houses located on the square. Two hundred years later, one of the Pamphili became Pope and built the family palace on Navona. Construction was done by Girolamo Rinaldi.
A relative of the pope, Donna Olimpia, became the owner of the palace. Aristocrat decided to reconstruct the entire area. Under her orders, the Virgin Aqueduct was built, which made it possible to equip the famous fountains.
In the middle of the XVII century a new church was built next to the Pamphili Palace. The temple bears the name of St. Agnes. The previous church, bearing the name of this saint, built in the XI century on the site of an ancient Roman brothel, was destroyed. The new church was consecrated in 1672, and within its walls Pope Innocent X, a member of the Pamphili family, found his last shelter.
Nowadays, Piazza Navona is quite a popular tourist spot in Rome . By the way, not only guests of the capital of Italy like to visit here, the locals also enjoy spending their free time in the square. Navona filled with people during the day and at night.
Here you can see the performances of young musicians, buy a work of unknown, but talented artists. Quite unexpectedly you can become a participant of flash mob or some funny contest. Or you can take a cup of coffee and sitting in a cozy cafe watching everything that happens.
The square is also visited by fans of shopping. There are stores of famous brands here. The prices are quite high, but many shoppers are not scared off.
What to see on the square
Features of the square – the atmosphere and attractions. And if the locals are mainly interested in the first, the numerous tourists with interest examine the palaces and fountains.
The Baroque Pamphili Palace is the decoration of the square. Two talented architects – Reinaldi and Borromini worked on the building. Nowadays this building is occupied by the Brazilian Embassy.
Braschi Palace was built in the 18th century, designed by Morelli. After the 2nd World War, the building housed the evacuated families. Since 1952 there is the Roman Museum. In the halls of the museum you can see exhibits that focus on different aspects of life in Rome in different eras. Among the exhibits are works by famous architects, painters and sculptors. Furniture and household items from different centuries. There is an exposition that is dedicated to the noble Roman families.
The church of St. Agnes was badly damaged during the 2nd World War, after the restoration the original appearance of the structure was restored. The majestic snow-white temple attracts attention, both externally and internally. The main relic of the temple is the head of the saint. The church of Santa Maria del Sacro is situated opposite the Palazzo Pamphili. There are frescoes by Raphael in the church.
The Neptune Fountain was built in 1574. Originally there was a stone basin for water. In the 19th century it was decided to decorate this place more elegantly. That’s how the main figure of the fountain appeared – Neptune. The sea lord is depicted at the moment when he strikes the octopus with his trident.
The Moor Fountain has existed since 1576. The central figure of the composition is the Moor, wrestling with a dolphin.
The Four Rivers Fountain is the most famous landmark on the square. It is a true masterpiece created by the genius Bernini. The master spent 3 years to create this sculpture.
This is interesting. When the competition to create the fountain was announced, Bernini was not admitted to it. It was during this period that the master was in disgrace from the Pope. Because he built the bell towers in the cathedral of St. Peter gave cracks and had to dismantle. An investigation was conducted and it was proved that Bernini was not to blame, but his reputation was damaged. The master still made a model of the fountain, which his patrons showed to the Pope. The pontiff was struck by its beauty and cancelled the competition. The construction of the fountain was entrusted to Bernini.
The sculpture composition consists of a 16 meter obelisk and figures of gods which symbolize 4 great rivers: Danube, Nile, La Plata and Gang. The figures of the gods are surrounded by representatives of flora and fauna of the continents where the depicted rivers run. The sculpture is made of white marble. According to the reviews of tourists, the sculpture makes a very strong impression .
Piazza Navona is always crowded. In addition to the beautiful buildings and fountains, tourists are attracted here by the special atmosphere. By the way, even at night you can sit in a cafe and watch young artists perform. Journey to Rome will give a lot more experience if you spend at least one evening in this interesting place.
Other than St. Peter’s Square, which is part of the Vatican, Piazza Navona is justly considered Rome’s most beautiful square.