Rome, Piazza Navona

(continuer en français) – Published: January 15, 2022

Piazza Navona

Rome is a great and ancient city that has been built in successive layers. There is the antique Rome, the Renaissance Rome, the Baroque Rome and finally the modern Rome.

The Piazza Navona will pass through all these eras.

In antique Rome, the Piazza Navona was a stadium for sports competitions as the Greeks had created them. Its long oblong shape was surrounded by stands at the initiative of the Emperor Domitian in 86 AD, when Rome had just unified Italy.

Then the stands fell into ruin, houses were built on them and the stadium became a market. During the baroque period, Piazza Navona was reborn under the leadership of the rich Pamphili family who built their palace there in 1644. This was the year when Innocent X, from the Pamphili family, became Pope.

The Fountain of the Four Rivers

In 1648 Pope Innocent X commissioned Le Bernin to create this fountain in the centre of the square. Le Bernin was already famous for the construction of the baldachin of St. Peter’s Basilica, and he later created the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square. He was therefore a talented artist typical of the Baroque period.

The four rivers each represent a continent, the Danube for Europe, the Nile for Africa, the Ganges for Asia and the Rio de la Plata for America. The whole is surmounted by an obelisk taken from a sanctuary in Egypt but engraved with hieroglyphs in Rome.

The Fountain of the Moor

The fountain is located directly in front of the Pamphili Palace. It consists of the re-use of a work of 1575 with the sculptures around the basin, to which is added the central figure, the Moor sculpted in 1653 by Giovanni Antonio Mari.

The Fountain of Neptune

The fountain also consists of an older basin dating from 1575, to which was eventually added the god Neptune fighting an octopus. This addition dates from 1878 and was made by Antonio Della Bitta, but the strength of the expression corresponds well to the baroque spirit that dominates the square.

The Fountain of Neptune

Around Piazza Navona

Most of the buildings around Piazza Navona are simple facades in warm colours. However, more sophisticated lines can be seen in the Pamphilij Palace, built between 1644 and 1650 by the architect Girolamo Rainaldi. It is a vast complex with interior courtyards, around which are corridors and galleries of generous proportions, filled with works of art. The Brazilian embassy is now located here.

As an extension to their palace, the Pamphili family had an ancient chapel rebuilt, giving it proportions that matched their ambition to make it the family necropolis. The work on the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone was initially entrusted to Girolamo Rainaldi, but it was Francesco Borromini who completed the work, particularly the curved façade and the dome.

Piazza Navona today

Isolated from the main traffic routes, with just a car access on one side, the square has become a major tourist attraction in Rome. It is the place to spend a quiet moment, especially at the end of the day when the declining sun gives way to the shade that provides a respite from the heat of the day.

The terraces fill up as the portraitists try to convince the tourists who have come for something else.

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  1. You managed to get some great shots of the Bernini statue. I’ve never been so lucky. Maybe I should go out earlier before the tourists gather round. I hope you found time to visit the 3 Caravaggios hanging in the Contarelli’s chapel which were painted in the first years of the 1600s and centered around the life of St. Matthew. They are exquisite. Piazza Navona will be forever associated in my mind with the best ice-cream in Rome. I watched the trays of fresh fruit being carried into the gelateria and I knew I’d found my heaven.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t seen as much as you, but Rome is a city with so many attractions that it’s hard to get the full picture. I agree with you, it is tempting to eat gelati repeatedly.


  2. I like your detailed description of this lovely Piazza. Actually, I cannot even say what is the favorite place in Rome for me. The city as a hole is the masterpiece. Unlike Paris, Rome is smaller and it takes less time to explore it by distance. However, it is so packed by landmarks that in term of time it is difficult to visit and see all of them.
    This is why it is really nice to read and watch somebody’s blog with absolutely different sight and experience.

    Liked by 1 person

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