Piazza Navona

Caspar Van Wittel
If you want to see Rome in all its unbridled glory; teaming with tourists, hawkers, artists, street performers, thieves, priests, paupers of all descriptions, and plain old Romans out for a passeggiata, you have to go to the Piazza Navona. It was created from an existing lot in the mid-17th century on the site of the old Stadium of Domitian, a horseshoe-shaped arena for foot races built in the 1st century AD.

Of all Rome’s piazzas, this isolapedonale (pedestrian precinct) is one where the liveliness of Roman life is most tangible. It has long been a meeting place for the inhabitants of Rome. In past, in addition to the market, processions and spectacles were held here – included “naumachiae”, or mock naval battles.

Piazza Navona

The grand refurbishment was commissioned by Pope Innocent X to give his family, the Pamphili’s (who owned much of the surrounding land) the greatest square in all of Rome. Not only did the work include the rebuilding of the church of Sant’Agnese by Borromini, Bernini, and Girolamo Rainaldi, it was also the excuse to build one of the most astonishing fountains ever created, Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers. With various other fountains and shops, the Museo di Roma, and even a statue of Pasquino, where Romans can leave lyrical complaints about powerful people, the piazza is still living up to its reputation as one of the grandest and most vibrant outdoor hubs in Rome.

Navona Four River

OPENING TIMINGS

The Piazza Navona is a public space and therefore doesn’t close. It does, however, get quite crowded during the day regardless of the time of year, but especially during high season (May – September). If you’re looking for a bit of intimacy go in the early morning, before the buskers, hawkers, caricaturists and street artists show up. But don’t write off the merry bedlam of the Piazza later in the day.

If you enjoy a carnival-like buzz go around sundown on a summer evening to feel like you have stepped into a heart of a pan-European street party that has been going strong for over 500 years.

Of all Rome’s piazzas, this isolapedonale (pedestrian precinct) is one where the liveliness of Roman life is most tangible. It has long been a meeting place for the inhabitants of Rome. In past, in addition to the market, processions and spectacles were held here – included “naumachiae”, or mock naval battles.

Rare View Of Santangnese

Today life in the piazza revolves around the open-air-cafés and the seasonal fairs. Of these the most popular is the one held in December and early January where toys and crib figures are sold. In the summer, the piazza provides a continuous festival of painters, caricaturists, fortune-teller and buskers, who entertain visitors until the small hours.

The Fountain of Neptune

Piazza Navona is a perfect example of urban continuity in Rome. It covers exactly the area occupied by the track of Rome’s first stadium (built by Domitian between 81 and 96 AD). The stadium was known as Circus Agonalis(competition arena), and it is believed that over time the name changed to in avone to navone and eventually to navona.

Piazza Navona

Soon after being elected Pope, Innocent X (1644-55) decided to embellish the piazza in honor of his family, the Pamphilj, just as Urban VIII had revamped part of Quirinal hill to glorify the Berberini family. With this in mind, he had his family palace and the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone rebuilt, ordered the restoration of the two fountains that Gregory XIII (1572-85) had installed at either end of the piazza, and commissioned the colossal Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi in center.

Piazza Navona is one of the Roman’s most treasured piazzas; here, in centuries past, acrobats and jugglers performed and even today, it’s still lively with painters and street performers that put on their shows for tourists and passers-by, new spectators of that life that’s always flowed through the piazza with movement and joy.