Italy, Rome, piazza

Eight must-see piazzas in Rome, one of the most romantic cities in the world

The piazzas of Rome: meeting places, places of exchange, of prayer, at times noisy, at times romantic, undoubtedly always evocative and fascinating, enrich the city with their beauty and famous names.

Start your exploration from one of the most fashionable piazzas: Campo de’ Fiori. This piazza is always full of life with its colorful morning market, lively bars, and restaurants in the evening, especially in the warm season. The vibrant atmosphere one breathes in this piazza contrasts with the austere statue of Giordano Bruno, who was burned precisely here.

{There are many little shops and workshops where you can linger in the little lanes of the area.

You have to cross Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and find yourself in Piazza Navona. Built on the ashes of the Circus of Domitian (or Circo di Domiziano), where horse races, athletics competitions, and games took place, today, it is one of Rome’s most elegant and lively piazzas.

Surrounded by bars and restaurants with little outside tables and glittering shops, the piazza has three splendid fountains, including the Quattro Fiumi (Four Rivers). Bernini was commissioned to design it on the occasion of the Jubilee of 1650. The fountain represents the Ganges, the symbol of Asia holding an oar; the Danube, symbolizing Europe, sitting by a horse; the Rio de la Plata, symbolizing the Americas, with a raised arm; and the Nile, representing Africa, with a veiled head.

{The central statue of the fountain is looking towards the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone with a gesture of repulsion (its arm raised to cover its eyes). According to legend, Bernini had accomplished this as a sign of contempt for Borromini, the church designer, and his great rival.

Piazza Navona is enlivened by many artists who can capture someone’s features and typical expressions in just a few minutes. Through the years, this has always remained one of the favorite meeting places of Romans during Carnival, Christmas, and Epiphany.

{According to tradition, 8 December marks the start in the piazza of the Christmas market with all its artistic and modern cribs, handicrafts, and, naturally, confectionery. The market ends with Epiphany, the evening between 5 and 6 January, when grown-ups and children assemble to await the arrival of the Befana (a kindly old witch bringing gifts).

{All you have to do is turn the corner, and you are in the antiquarian’s paradise: tables, desks, lamps, and statues fill up glittering windows of the antique dealers’ shops in Via dei Coronari. Also, just a few steps from Piazza Navona is the splendid Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, where three of Caravaggio’s masterpieces can be admired.

Next, turn to the Piazza della Rotonda, where the famous Pantheon stands. This impressive monument has kept its looks through the centuries. Dedicated to all of the gods, it has just a single opening in the ceiling, about 9 meters above your head. This is the only source of natural light.

Through the centuries, the Pantheon has also been used as a monumental tomb: among others, here are the tombs of Vittorio Emanuele II and Raphael.

{This is just the district for a coffee break: by tradition, I advise you to call in for coffee at the Sant’Eustachio bar, which seems to be the best in Rome. Their secret? Try to discover it!

While you are walking towards Piazza di Spagna, especially if it is a lovely sunny day, you should not miss the chance of visiting a little square that seems from another age, considering it is only a few steps away from the noisy confusion of Via del Corso: Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina. It is one of the loveliest “piazza-salons” in the city, a typical rendezvous for an aperitif in one of the various bars with tables in the open. Comfortably sipping your drink, you can enjoy the view of the church of the same name. Inside this church there is the Cappella Fonseca, designed by Bernini.

{A short stroll along Via del Corso, Via Frattina, and Via Condotti will enable you to discover a lot of shops, luxury boutiques, and workshops of artists, filling the streets of this very central area of Rome, reaching as far as the Piazza di Spagna.

Feeling satisfied with these discoveries, I now suggest you visit Piazza di Spagna: dominated by the magnificent flight of travertine steps leading up to the church of Trinità dei Monti, while at the foot of the steps is the Fontana della Barcaccia, a fountain designed by Pietro Bernini and his son in 1629.

{The Spanish Steps, a meeting point for tourists and Romans, changes its look according to the season: in the spring, they are decorated all over with vases of colored azaleas, making a truly incredible spectacle; in the summer, the wonder continues with fashion parades; and in the winter they act as the backdrop for a fascinating Christmas crib.

To the left of the piazza is Via del Babuino (whose name stems from the statue there of a macaque, the guardian spirit of water and springs, whose hairy body has earned it the nickname of Baboon), which leads to the majestic but sober-looking Piazza del Popolo. Situated at the head of a triangle of roads called the “Trident” (Via del Babuino, Via Condotti, Via di Ripetta), the piazza took about three centuries to be constructed due to the alternation of various popes, and it owes its present look to the architect Giuseppe Valadier. In its center is the Egyptian obelisk transferred from the Circus Maximus, while in the background are the Twin churches dating from the second half of the 17th century. Piazza del Popolo is a great pedestrian area where concerts and events are organized today.

{Bicycle rides, museums, theatres, and places for children await you immediately after you go through the Porta del Popolo in the green heart of Rome: Villa Borghese.

Crossing the Tiber, I suggest arriving at a city square that must be seen by everyone visiting Rome: Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter’s Square), the hub of world Christendom. With its splendid enveloping colonnade, the work of Bernini, the piazza is made all the more impressive by the majesty of the Basilica of St. Peter’s overlooking it, which is visited every year by millions of pilgrims from all over the world.

{Every Sunday at midday, a great crowd assembles in this piazza for the Angelus Domini and to receive the Pope’s blessing when he appears at the window of his study. Naturally, it would be best if you also took advantage of a visit to the marvelous collections of the Vatican Museums.


>>> 1 Campo de’ Fiori. Buses: 64, 81 and 87. Tram: 8. 2 Piazza Navona and surrounds. Buses: 64, 81 and 87.Tram: 8.
>>> 3 via dei Coronari. Bus: 70.
>>> 4 Piazza della Rotonda. Buses: 64, 81 and 87. Tram: 8.
>>> 5 Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina. Buses: 116 and 119.
>>> 6 Via del Corso and surrounds. Metro: line A, Flaminio stop. Buses: 63, 85, 95, 116, 119 and 160.
>>> 7 Piazza di Spagna. Metro: line A, Spagna stop.
>>> 9 Piazza San Pietro. Metro: line A, Ottaviano stop.

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