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Piazza Navona: 20 Fascinating Insights into Rome’s Hidden Gem

Fountain of the Four Rivers in Rome
Fountain of the Four Rivers

Residing in the heart of Rome has granted us the unique opportunity to immerse ourselves in the beauty of this city, enabling us to capture both videos and the majority of the photographs that we are excited to share in this article.

Our aim is to introduce you to an awe-inspiring tourist attraction, a square that stands as a prime example of the Baroque era’s grandeur.

“Genius is eternal patience.”

Michelangelo

1. History

Piazza Navona Rome By Snapshots Of The Past

Piazza Navona, the former stadium, is renowned for its stunning architecture and unique fountains, making it one of the most famous squares in Rome. 

Originally, in the first century AD, the site held a 30,000-seat stadium named Circus Agonalis (Circus Agonalis) built by Emperor Domitian as a competition arena and matches. 

After the stadium of Domitian declined, the area became a market. In 1650, Pope Innocent X commissioned the design of the Four Rivers Fountain(Fontana dei quattro fiumi), which now stands as one of the square’s main attractions. Additionally, two other fountains named Moro and Fountain of Neptune are present in the square. 

Piazza Navona is surrounded by beautiful Baroque buildings, adding to its allure and making it one of the most famous squares in the world.

2. Pre-Piazza History

Stadium of Domitian By Gary Todd

What Function Did Piazza Navona Serve in the Past?

Stadium of Domitian

The current field of Piazza Navona is built on the site of the ancient stadium named Le Stadio di Domiziano (in Italian: Stadio di Domiziano), which can be seen on the sign in the area. The buildings and open space in the middle of Piazza Navona are located on the old stadium’s platforms. 

The stadium of Domitian was constructed around 86 AD and was primarily used for sports competitions. 

A fascinating animation in the linked video below, starting at minute 1:30, showcases the site’s history and provides a stunning reconstruction of the stadium of Domitian.

3. Origins

Piazza Navona By Intel Free Press

How Did Piazza Navona Get Its Name?

The name of Piazza Navona has an interesting history. It is derived from the Latin word “Agones,” which means games or contests, and later evolved to “Navona” due to its shape resembling a ship’s hull. 

Despite popular belief, it is not named after the Italian word for ships (“Navi“) used during water battles in the stadium. There is no evidence that the stadium was used for such purposes, and the floor was not designed to hold water. 

Check out the video below for a detailed explanation of Piazza Navona.

4. From Lake to Piazza: Piazza Navona’s Transformation

View of the flooded Piazza Navona Rome
View of the flooded Piazza Navona By Antonio Joli

Was Piazza Navona Once a Lake?

In 1652, the Pope commissioned the creation of the lake in Piazza Navona by sending water from the fountains to the square on weekends in August. 

The curved shape of the square made it easy for water to accumulate, and people, both commoners and nobles, gathered there to enjoy the lake. They even held small concerts and watched chariot races, famous naval battles, and gladiator fights, providing entertainment for all. This tradition continued until 1676 when it was temporarily stopped due to fears of disease spreading. 

However, it was later resumed in 1703 after a papal physician declared that water could not cause the spread of disease. This practice continued until 1865.

“What we have is given by God and to teach it to others is to return it to him.”

Gian Lorenzo Bernini

5. Construction Date

Piazza Navona in Night By NikonZ7II

When Was the Piazza Navona Built?

The origins of Piazza Navona can be traced back to 86 AD when it was originally built as the Domitian Stadium. Following the decline of the Western Roman Empire, the stadium fell into disuse and was transformed into a public square during the fifteenth century(middle ages).

During the Baroque era, piazza Navona was further enhanced with the addition of fountains and statues, enhancing its beauty.

See also  How & Why did the Renaissance Start in Italy?

6. Fountains 

Who Built Piazza Navona’s Fountains and When?

Piazza Navona fountains were constructed during the Baroque period and the 17th century. These fountains were constructed under the commission of Pope Gregory XIII. Each fountain represents the magnificent Baroque style.

Fountain of the Four Rivers By Ank Kumar
The Moor Fountain By Fczarnowski
The Neptune Fountain By Gary Todd

These three famous fountains are as popular and amazing as Trevi fountain at the historic center of Rome near the Roman forum.

Fountain of Neptune Fontana del Nettuno, Piazza Navona By Sonse

Here, we provide a comprehensive analysis of three famous fountains of Piazza Navona Rome.

Fontana dei quattro fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers)

One of piazza Navona’s most celebrated attractions is the fountain of the four rivers designed by Bernini at the behest of Pope Innocent X in 1651. 

At the center of Fontana dei quattro fiumi( fountain of the four rivers)stands a 16-meter-tall obelisk that originated from the Circus of Maxentius before being relocated to its current position.

Surrounding the obelisk are four statues, each representing one of the four great rivers: the Ganges, Nile, Danube, and Rio de la Plata. 

Historically, these rivers fell under the Pope’s authority, but the Nile’s uncertain source has led to its closure. The Rio de la Plata statue also holds a bag of coins, symbolizing wealth.

See also  High Renaissance in Italy: The Art of Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphaely?

Four rivers  figures

The Figure of the River Ganges

The figure of river Ganges By Wikimedia

The Figure of River Nile

The Figure of river Nile By Enth’ust’eac

The Figure of the River Rio de la Plata

The Figure of river Rio de la Plata By Wikimedia

The Figure of River Danube

The Figure of River Danube By Jean-Pol GRANDMONT

The video link below showcases this stunning fountain, starting from the 1:20 minute mark.

Fontana del Moro (Moor Fountain)

The oldest of the fountains which is designed by Giacomo della Porta, found in Piazza Navona can be located towards its southern end. Fontana del Moro’s (Moor fountain )centerpiece portrays an African figure grappling with a dolphin and is encircled by four Triton deities. 

Fontana del Moro’s( Moor fountain) water supply was initially fed by Aqua Virgina, which continues to provide water to the city of Rome to this day.

During the 19th-century restoration of this fountain, Giovanni Battista Filippo Basile added the Moor statue. This sculpture depicts the figure of a Moor holding an oyster from which water spills into the pool below.

Bernini Modello Fountain of the Moor Wikimedia

Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune)

Fontana del Nettuno ( fountain of Neptune) is situated at the northern end of Piazza Navona. This fountain was initially planned by Giacomo della Porta and subsequently finished by Antonio Della Betta. 

The pool and its design were first envisioned by Dellaporta, while the statue of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea which is one of the most famous Roman gods and river gods, locked in battle with an octopus, and surrounded by four mermaids, was later incorporated into the fountain of Neptune.

The Fontana del Nettuno By Ank Kumar

Note: In the past, one of the most impressive features of Piazza Navona was the so-called lake. This fascinating spectacle used to be created every Saturday during the summer months, with water pouring out from several fountains to create a pool in the center of the square. So, if you were visiting Rome in the summer months back then, you wouldn’t want to forget to visit it.

“Iron rusts from disuse; stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.”

Leonardo da Vinci

7. Obelisk

How old is the obelisk in Piazza Navona?

The obelisk at Piazza Navona can be found within the Four Rivers Fountain and is a Roman imitation of an ancient Egyptian obelisk. It stands at an impressive height of approximately 16 meters and features exquisite carvings. 

This pyramidal column was constructed during the reign of Emperor Domitian, in the first century AD.

Piazza Navona Obelisk of Domitian By Gary Todd

8. Museums 

What are Piazza Navona’s most famous museums?

Museum of Rome, Palazzo Braschi (Museo di Roma)

Palazzo Braschi (Museo di Roma) located at the southern edge of Piazza Navona, houses the Museum of Rome (Museo di Roma), which is widely regarded as the most famous museum situated in Navona Square. The museum, which was established in 1952, occupies a position between Piazza Navona and Corso Vittorio Emanuele II.

The Museum of Rome, Palazzo Braschi boasts a remarkable collection of artifacts and artwork, providing insight into the history and development of Rome, from ancient times to the present day. This includes paintings and Museotures crafted by Italian and foreign artists between the 17th and 20th centuries, alongside other works that have earned a special place in the museum’s collection.

Palazzo Braschi By Krzysztof Golik

Visitors can expect to view over 100,000 paintings depicting nobles, churches, and landscapes of Rome, as well as statues of Roman aristocrats and clay designs created by renowned artists such as Bernini in Palazzo Braschi.

Gladiator Museum

For those with an interest in the gladiators and the military of ancient Rome, we highly recommend a visit to this museum. It houses an array of artifacts related to gladiatorial combat, including clothing, armor, and weaponry that was utilized during those times.

In addition to the gladiatorial exhibits, the museum also offers valuable insights into the ancient Roman army. Visitors can gather information and learn more about the military tactics and weapons utilized by the Roman army through the museum’s displays.

9. Grand Residence

What is Piazza Navona’s most iconic grand residence?

Grand Residence of Pamphilj, Palazzo Pamphilj

Palazzo Pamphilj in Rome By Blackcat

The Doria Pamphili Palace (palazzo Pamphili) in Rome is a stunning example of Baroque architecture, constructed during the 17th century. Originally built as the residence of the Doria Pamphili royal family, the palace includes sections dating back to the 15th century, which were later expanded upon by the royals. Donna Olimpia lived in this palace too.

In the 1920s, the Brazilian embassy took up residence within the palace walls. Today, the palace houses a collection of fine art and decor and even boasts a boutique hotel named the Eitch Borromini Palazzo Pamphilj.

Visitors to the palace will be especially drawn to the small chapel designed by Carlo Fontana in the 17th century, as well as the public outdoor terrace which provides a lovely spot for enjoying the many wonderful restaurants and bars located in the area.

To catch a glimpse of this stunning Baroque masterpiece, please refer to the video below.

10. Piazza Navona’s Churches

Which churches can be found in Piazza Navona?

Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone 

The St. Agnes church serves as a commemoration to the young Christian martyr named St. Agnes, who was executed in 3 AD. The original church, which occupied the same location, was destroyed by fire.

Church of Sant’Agnese By Jensens

As a result, the renowned baroque architects, Francesco Borromini and Gian Lorenzo Bernini were commissioned to design the current church. Its construction began in 1652 and concluded in 1670. The church’s exterior showcases remarkable baroque architecture with intricate sculptures and carvings, while the interior is adorned with white marble columns and paintings.

Sant'Agnese in Agone (Rome)
Sant’Agnese in Agone By NikonZ7II

Notably, Bernini designed the altar of St. Agnes, featuring a sheep in her hand, symbolizing her purity and innocence. Situated at the heart of ancient Rome and near its main tourist attractions, the St. Agnes church attracts many admirers. The video below showcases both the interior and exterior of the church.

Church of San Giacomo degli Spagnoli

Dedicated to Virgin Mary, this Catholic church was established in 1450. Inside the church, visitors can marvel at the exquisite watercolor paintings and stucco decorations crafted by esteemed artists like Annibale Caracci and Bernini.

Interior Design of Nostra Signora del Sacro Cuore By Livioandronico2013

Thanks to its magnificent baroque architecture, the church has become a popular tourist destination in Piazza Navona.

Church of Santa Maria dell’Anima

Santa Maria del Anima By Jensens

Initially established by John and Katrina Peters as a Dutch pilgrims’ hospice, the church eventually received papal recognition and merged with a St. Andrew’s affiliated institution. Pope Innocent VII designated it as a national institution in 1406

Inside of Santa Maria del Anima By Mastrocom

Unfortunately, the Tiber River flood of 1598 caused severe harm to the church. Despite this setback, the 17th century witnessed extensive renovations, culminating in a splendid baroque-style interior that continues to captivate tourists to this day.

“It is your duty in life to save your dream.”

Amedeo Modigliani

11. Hotels (Accommodations)

What are the most popular hotels in Piazza Navona?

Renowned for its stunning beauty and plethora of attractions, Piazza Navona is a highly sought-after destination for tourists visiting Rome. 

Opting to stay in this area is advantageous since you can conveniently reach the city’s iconic landmarks on foot. Here are some of the top-rated hotels in the vicinity:

  • Eitch Borromini
  • Rhea Silvia Luxury Navona
  • Navona Stay
  • Navona Living Rome

See also  Italian Renaissance Architecture: Your Essential Guide with 20 Answers

12. Painters

Paolo Salvati in Rome by Wikimedia

What is the Artistic Atmosphere like in Piazza Navona?

Piazza Navona is one of the beloved destinations for painters who showcase their artwork in various styles in this picturesque and historically-rich square. As you stroll through the area, you’re likely to spot numerous artists working on their pieces, often drawing the attention of passersby. 

The painters of Piazza Navona employ diverse styles, including caricatures and realism paintings. Some of these artists have even created breathtaking depictions of Rome’s iconic tourist attractions, which you can purchase as souvenirs. 

By paying the painters in the square a fee of 10 to 20 euros, you can have a caricature of yourself created as a memorable souvenir.

If you appreciate art and painting, take a leisurely walk through the square and observe the street artists at work. 

To witness the artistry firsthand, watch the video below featuring a painter at work in Piazza Navona Rome.

13. Piazza Navona at Night

Piazza Navona at Night By Hanc1

What Makes Piazza Navona Transform at Night?

During the day, Piazza Navona is bustling with activity, but it is worth a visit at night when the buildings surrounding the square are bathed in soft light, creating a romantic atmosphere. 

The illuminated sculptures of the square are also a sight to behold. As you stroll through the yard, you can enjoy the music of talented artists, watch street performers, and admire the works of painters. Even after most people disperse for the night, you can still sit in cafes or take walking tours. Because of this, it’s easy to see why Piazza Navona is so-called the jewel of Rome.

Be sure not to miss the enchanting fountains of the square, which are particularly captivating at night. 

Additionally, you can watch a 10-minute walking tour of the square at night in the video below.

14. Metro

How to get to Piazza Navona?

Piazza Navona does not have a metro station within its vicinity. Barberini station is near Piazza Navona, which is only 1.5 km away. And it’s only 1.5 away from Termini station, the largest railway station in Rome.

You can easily reach piazza navona from Barberini station by walking for approximately 18 minutes.

15. Bars

What Are the Must-Try Bars and Cafes in Piazza Navona?

Piazza Navona is one of the popular places for its selection of bars and cafes where you can enjoy unique drinks like cocktails and wines during the day or even at night. Below, we’ve highlighted some of the best bars in Piazza Navona Rome. 

  • Bar del Fico
  • Terrazza Borromini
  • Caffè della Pace
  • Freni e Frizioni

“The senses are of the earth; Reason, stands apart in contemplation.”

Leonardo da Vinci

16. Shopping

What are some famous shopping destinations in Piazza Navona?

Although Piazza Navona is primarily known for its stunning fountains and beautiful architecture, it does not offer many shopping options directly within the square. Fortunately, there are plenty of popular streets and shops in the surrounding area and near Piazza Navona. Below, we’ve listed some of the most famous shops in Piazza Navona Rome to explore:

  1. Al Sogno: The store specializes in selling toys and games, with a wide assortment of items made from both wood and plastic.
  2. Navona Antiquariato: This store specializes in selling antiques, including jewelry, paintings, and a variety of items from any era, all with a guarantee.
  3. Cartoleria Pantheon dal 1910:This shop specializes in selling stationery items, where you can find everything you need to meet your stationery requirements.
  4. Via dei Coronari: Near piazza Navona is a bustling street lined with many restaurants and diverse shops. This vibrant street offers an array of options ranging from clothing, jewelry, and home decor to antiques.

Note: If you’re traveling to Rome during the holiday season of Christmas, remember that Piazza Navona is known for its large Christmas market.

17. Restaurants

What Are the Best Dining Options?

If you’re looking for a place to eat after a full day of exploring Rome, Piazza Navona is one of the excellent destinations. Being one of the city’s most significant tourist attractions, the square boasts numerous restaurants to choose from. 

Here are some renowned establishments in the Piazza Navona Rome that serve authentic Roman cuisine, including:

  • Fiammetta
  • Lilli
  • La Campana

If you’re in the mood for pizza, don’t miss out on the delicious pies at:

  • Baffetto
  • La Montecarlo
  • Emma
  • Trattoria Polese

18. Ice Cream

What Are the best gelato shops?

Indulging in gelato is an essential experience when visiting Rome. Gelato, an Italian dessert resembling ice cream but with less fat, is a must-try. While strolling around Navona Square, you will encounter many gelato shops, making it challenging to select one. 

Here are some of the most well-known gelato shops in Navona Navona Rome:

  • Giolitti
  • Frigidarium
  • Grom
  • Gelateria del Teatro
  • Ai Tre Tartufi
  • Mariotti

19. Quick Facts 

Aerial view of Piazza Navona By Wikimedia
  • The square was originally a stadium called Circus Agonalis that could hold up to 33,000 people.
  • In 1652, Pope Innocent commissioned the creation of a lake in Piazza Navona by sending water from the fountains to the square on weekends in August.
  • The oval shape of the square made it easy for water to accumulate, and people gathered there to enjoy the lake.
  • Following the decline of the Western Roman Empire, the stadium of Domitian fell into disuse and was transformed into a city market and then a public square.
  • Piazza Navona is home to several churches, including the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, the Church of San Giacomo degli Spagnoli, and the Church of Santa Maria dell’Anima.
  • Piazza Navona’s three fountains were constructed during the Baroque period and the 17th century.
  • The Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei quattro fiumi) was built in 1651 and created by Gian Lorenzo Bernini under the commission of Pope Innocent X.
  • The obelisk in Piazza Navona is known as the Obelisk of Domitian and is over 2,000 years old.
  • The Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone was designed by famous baroque architects Francesco Borromini and Gian Lorenzo Bernini after the previous church on the same site was destroyed by fire.

20. Piazza Navona MAP