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History Of Piazza Navona: 6 Significant Insights

Piazza Navona is one of the most beautiful and popular public squares in Rome. The square is located in the historic center of the city and is known for its stunning Baroque architecture, fountains, and sculptures. The history of Piazza Navona dates back to the first century AD when it was built on the site of the ancient Stadium of Domitian.

The Stadium of Domitian was built by Emperor Titus Flavius Domitianus in 80 AD and could hold approximately 20,000 spectators. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the square was abandoned and later used as an open-air market in the fifteenth century.

In the seventeenth century, the square was transformed into the beautiful Baroque-style Piazza Navona that we see today. The square was designed by some of the most famous architects and sculptors of the time, including Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini. Piazza Navona is a loved place for tourists and locals to enjoy and relax.

1. Origins and Ancient Rome

Piazza Navona photo by Viplav Nigam

Piazza Navona is a highly significant example of Baroque Roman architecture and art with its history dating back to ancient Rome. The square was built on the site of the ancient Stadium of Domitian, which was commissioned by Emperor Domitian in 86 AD. The stadium was used for athletic contests and could hold up to 30,000 spectators.

Stadium of Domitian

The Stadium of Domitian was an impressive structure that was built to rival the Colosseum. It was used for athletic contests and was also the site of the famous Agon Capitolinus, a series of games held in honor of Jupiter. The stadium was a massive structure, measuring 275 meters long and 106 meters wide.

Transition from Stadium to Public Space

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the stadium fell into disuse and was abandoned. In the second half of the fifteenth century, the square came back to life as one of the main open-air markets in the city. The remains of the battered stadium were paved over to create Piazza Navona.

The square was defined as a public space in the last years of the 15th century when the city market was transferred there from the Campidoglio. During the pontificate of Innocent X from 1644 to 1655, the square transformed into a prominent example of Baroque Roman architecture and art, with the Palazzo Pamphili, his family palace, overlooking it.

Piazza Navona in Rome is a top tourist spot, celebrated for its Baroque architecture, charming fountains, and lively atmosphere. The square is home to three magnificent fountains, including the famous Fountain of the Four Rivers, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The square is surrounded by Palazzo Pamphili and Sant’Agnese Church.

See Also Sant’Agnese in Agone

2. Renaissance Transformation

During the Renaissance period, Piazza Navona underwent significant changes that transformed it into the magnificent square we see today. This transformation was largely due to the influence of the papacy and the architectural developments that took place during this time.

Papal Influence

Pope Innocent X painting by Diego Velázquez

The papacy played a crucial role in the transformation of Piazza Navona. In the 15th century, Pope Innocent X commissioned the construction of several palaces around the square, which gave it a more uniform appearance. The Palazzo Pamphili, once built by Pope Innocent X’s family, now serves as the Brazilian Embassy in Rome.

Pope Innocent X also commissioned the construction of several fountains and sculptures in Piazza Navona. The most famous of these is the Fountain of the Four Rivers, which was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

See Also Piazza Navona

Architectural Developments

Sant’Agnese in Agone Interno photo by NikonZ7II

During the Renaissance period, Piazza Navona saw significant architectural developments. The square was paved with cobblestones and became a popular location for public events and celebrations. The buildings around the square were also renovated, with many of them being converted into shops and restaurants.

One of the most significant architectural developments in Piazza Navona was the construction of the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone. The church was built on the site of an earlier church and was designed by Francesco Borromini and his assistant, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The church in Rome boasts a stunning façade adorned with sculptures and reliefs.

3. Baroque Flourishing

During the Baroque period, Piazza Navona underwent a significant transformation. The square became a showcase of Baroque design, with works by some of the most prominent artists of the time, including Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini.

Sculptures and Fountains

The Fountain of the Four Rivers photo by Feng Zhong

One of the most notable features of Piazza Navona during the Baroque period was the inclusion of several sculptures and fountains. The most famous is the Fountain of the Four Rivers at the square’s center. This fountain was designed by Bernini and completed in 1651. It showcases four significant rivers: Nile, Danube, Ganges, and Rio de la Plata.

Another important fountain in Piazza Navona is the Fontana del Moro, located on the southern end of the square. This fountain was also designed by Bernini and features a figure of a Moor holding a dolphin.

Fontana del Moro photo by Colin W

Architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Gian Lorenzo Bernini Rome
Self Portrait of Gianlorenzo Bernini, Galleria Borghese photo by Gian Lorenzo Bernini 

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was one of the most important architects of the Baroque period, and his work can be seen throughout Piazza Navona. In addition to the fountains mentioned above, Bernini also designed the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, located on the east side of the square. This 17th-century church has a distinct facade with two bell towers and a large dome.

Bernini’s influence can also be seen in the Palazzo Pamphili, located on the west side of the square. This palace was built in the 17th century for the noble Pamphili family and features a grand facade with a large central balcony.

5. Modern Era and Preservation

Piazza Navona photo by Zygmunt Borowski

Piazza Navona’s cultural significance and historical value have been preserved through conservation efforts. The square remains an iconic symbol of Rome and a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.

Cultural Significance

Rome's Fontana del Moro: A historic delight

Piazza Navona has become an iconic symbol of Rome, attracting millions of tourists every year. The square has been the site of many cultural events, including concerts, art exhibitions, and festivals. In the modern era, Piazza Navona has become a popular destination for locals and tourists alike, with its many cafes and restaurants serving traditional Italian cuisine.

Conservation Efforts

Piazza Navona photo by Bradley Weber

Over the years, there have been many conservation efforts to preserve Piazza Navona’s cultural heritage. In 1936, the square was declared a national monument, and in 1960, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In recent years, there have been efforts to restore the square’s fountains and facades, which have suffered from pollution and weathering.

The conservation efforts have been successful in maintaining the square’s historical character. The buildings surrounding the square have been preserved, and the fountains have been restored to their former glory. Conservation helps keep the square important for both tourists and locals.

6. Piazza Navona in Popular Culture

Piazza Navona is not only a historically significant place but also an important cultural hub in Rome. The square has been featured in numerous films, books, and TV shows, making it a popular tourist destination.

One of the most famous films that feature Piazza Navona is “Angels & Demons,” a 2009 mystery-thriller film based on Dan Brown’s novel of the same name. The square is also featured in the 1960 film “La Dolce Vita,” directed by Federico Fellini.

In literature, Piazza Navona is mentioned in several books, including “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown and “The Roman Mysteries” by Caroline Lawrence. The square is also mentioned in several poems, including “Ode to Piazza Navona” by John Keats.

Piazza Navona is also a popular location for street performances, especially during the Christmas season. The square is transformed into a winter wonderland, with street performers, food vendors, and Christmas lights.

See Also Piazza Navona at Night

History Of Piazza Navona: a Recap

Fountain of the Four Rivers: A Baroque Marvel in Piazza Navona
The Four Rivers Fountain

Piazza Navona, a renowned square in Rome’s historic center, boasts a rich ancient Roman history and has evolved over the centuries. Here’s a brief overview of its history. Piazza Navona, originally Emperor Domitian’s 1st-century stadium, held 30,000 spectators for athletic events. Its current square shape preserves the stadium’s original design.

In the Renaissance, Piazza Navona became a hub for artists and intellectuals. Buildings like the Palazzo Pamphilj, now the Brazilian Embassy, were constructed around the square during this period. Pope Innocent X commissioned three fountains, including the famous Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and redesigned the square in the 17th century.

Today, Piazza Navona is a popular tourist destination and a lively hub of activity in the center of Rome. The square is surrounded by cafes, restaurants, and street performers, and it remains a testament to the rich history and culture of the city.