When thinking of traveling to Rome, many travelers visualize an “image” of the Eternal City. Some “see” emotional or action scenes from famous movies. Others remember those stunning panoramic photos used in travel brochures to describe the attractiveness of a vacation in Rome.
In many cases, these “mind movies” feature Rome’s glorious piazzas and the fountains they contain. It is our belief that the Eternal City’s legendary piazzas reveal the true and enduring beauty of Rome.
Only at the piazzas and around the fountains do tourists mix with locals in a tidal action that ebbs and flows throughout the day. The ambiance at Rome’s piazzas appears to have a visible connection with the flowing water of their fountains, as if this aqua vita is the life blood of the city and its people.
Rome’s piazzas and fountains are the places to savor the city. Take a seat, order some food or a drink and people watch for a simple treat. Just strolling these areas is a gift that just might make your day. Remember, don’t just look – savor the moment.
Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi)
This world famous fountain, fronting the Palazzo Poli, is celebrated for its beauty and size (it is one of the largest in the city). The Trevi Fountain’s construction was started by Salvi (with elements contributed by Bernini) and finished after his death by Pannini in the 1760’s. The Trevi Fountain is the fountain featured in the memorable movies “Three Coins in the Fountain” and Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita”.A legend associated with the fountain is that if you toss a coin into its waters over your shoulder, while facing away from the fountain, you will be guaranteed to return to Rome.
For more photos of the fountain as well as details on the sculpture, its elements and information about the artists involved in creating this masterpiece, see our one-page guide to the Trevi Fountain.
The shape of this lovely, oblong piazza results from its former role as the site of the Domitian’s Circus. Today, the Piazza Navona is surrounded by fine historic buildings constructed in the Baroque style. In addition, it contains some of the Eternal City’s best fountains, most famously, Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers).The famous Neptune Fountain and the Fountain of the Moor also can be found in the Piazza Navona.
While both are gorgeous, the Neptune fountain is more interesting and complex. If you have the time, visit the beautiful interior of the Church of Sant’Angese in Agone, dating from the 17th century. Also, you might be interested in examining the architecture the Palazzo Pamphilj at the north end of the Piazza (now an embassy), which was built by the family that was responsible for the many of the architectural treasures in this neighborhood.
If you are interested in the details of what you can see when you visit the Piazza Navona, click for our one page guide to the Fountains of Piazza Navona for photographs and historical information on its famous fountains.
The piazza is very popular and its cafes are good places to observe the many sights in this interesting location. Resting up for your next exploration seems much more while experiencing an espresso or gelato from one of Piazza Navona’s many food emporiums.
Piazza di Spagna/Spanish Steps
Perhaps the most popular meeting place in Rome, the Piazza di Spagna (named after the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican) includes the famous Spanish Steps (the Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti), which lead from the piazza to the church Trinità dei Monte. Being photographed on the Spanish Steps is a must for most visitors to Rome.
The Piazza contains the small, boat shaped Fontana dell Barcaccia, a fountain created by Benini’s father, Pietro Bernini.
The Piazza di Spagna is well-known for its restaurants and is a popular place for a snack or a meal. See our one page Guide to the Spanish Steps for more detail and photographs of this popular area. The Piazza di Spagna is also in the heart of Rome’s best shopping and you can find out more details in our section on shopping in Rome.
This large central square is considered by many to be the hub of Rome. However you want to describe it, the Piazza is, also, one of the most dangerous intersections in Rome. Crossing to the piazza is like wandering through a road race, so watch the traffic while attempting to reach it.
The Palazzo Venezia, the most interesting building on the Piazza Venezia, is a museum renowned for its collection of medieval and Renaissance works, including an interesting section on textiles.
The ostentatious, marble monument to Vittorio Emanuele II (Italy’s first king) sits at the head of the piazza and is a common gateway to the Capitoline Hill and Piazza Campidoglio areas. At the other end of the Piazza is Trajan’s Column, commemorating the war between the Roman Empire and the Dacians. See our one page Guide to the Piazza Venezia for photographs and for more details on this area.
A walk along the shopping district surrounding the Via del Corso (which leads to the Piazza) is a good way to while away an hour or two. The Via del Corso starts in the Piazza Popolo and ends at the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II.
Piazza del Popolo
Large and oval-shaped, the Piazza del Popolo lies along the northern edge of the Aurelian Wall, near both the Piazza di Spagna and the Galleria Borghese. The Piazza is known for its three Baroque (some would say neoclassical) churches and impressive obelisk. While all three churches are unique, most visitors tour Santa Maria del Popolo to see its spectacular interior.
Read our one page guide to the Piazza del Popolo, which contains information on the Piazza, its churches, obelisk and other attractions, as well as photos of this intriguing area.
During your travels around Rome you will discover a number ofpiazzas that deserve your attention. Some will appear plain, but most contain an unusual monument or two. The treasures of Rome are almost endless, which is what makes exploring the city so much fun.
For example, Bernini’s glorious Triton in Piazza Barberini on the left is set in a drab and traffic ridden section of Rome that does not attract a lot of tourists. The excellent Naiads Fountain on the right is located in the Piazza Repubblica in front of a hotel. The fountain is surrounded by another traffic circle, but one that includes the Baths of Domitian and Santa Maria degli Angeli, a church of significant historical importance. So, keep your eyes open. as Rome has so many treasures that it is often easy to miss those right in front of you.
If you are a fan of obelisks, there are a number of spires of either Egyptian or Roman origin scattered throughout the city. We recommend the following:The Obelisk of Domitian in Piazza Navona dates from the 1st century when it was incorporated in Domitian’s Circus. It has been speculated that this obelisk was purpose-cut in Egypt at the request of the Emperor and specifically designed to adorn the Circus. In later times the Circus was abandoned and then resurrected as Piazza Navona, which explains the unusual, narrow, oval-shape of the Piazza. The Obelisk was subsequently incorporated by Bernini’s into his Fountain of the Four Rivers in the 17th century. See our one-page guide to Piazza Navona for a photograph of the obelisk.
The Obelisk of Thutomose III, the tallest and best preserved of the Egyptian obelisks in Rome, can be found in the Piazza S. Giovanni in Laterano. If you visit the Obelisk, be sure to take a few minutes to tour the adjacent Basilica of San Giovanni (St. John Lateran). The church is the official cathedral of Rome, the oldest of the basilicas in the city, and has a beautiful interior.
In Piazza del Popolo, the Obelisk of Rameses II (Obelisco Flaminio) was originally part of the Circus Maximus, but was moved to this location in the 16th century. The Piazza is adjacent to the Villa Borghese
The Piazza della Minerva, is just down the street and in-sight-of the Pantheon. This small Piazza houses another of Bernini’s obelisk-centered creations, the Pulcino della Minerva. The obelisk is Egyptian in origin, dates from the 6th century B.C. and is combined with an elephant in a visually appealing presentation. The obelisk may have been brought to Rome at the request of Diocletian.
The Piazza, by the way, is named for the Church Saint Minerva, which was built over an ancient temple dedicated to the goddess Minerva. The church, which is in the background of our photo of the obelisk, is not to be missed and is described here.