Piazza Navona in Rome Jeremy Vandel

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona exudes splendor and charm thanks to its monuments of great beauty and artistic works of international fame. Together with its history, this makes it one of the most famous squares in Rome and among the most well-known in the world.

Piazza Navona is one of the most spectacular and characteristic squares of Baroque Rome. Emperor Domitian had a large stadium built on this site for athletic competitions called Circus Agonalis. It was 265 meters long and 106 meters wide, capable of welcoming 30,000 spectators.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Romans built houses on the former stands. The athletics track itself remained untouched and over the centuries it evolved into a large square. In the 17th century, Pope Innocent X gave it its current shape.

The remains of the structure are situated about five meters below the current street level and can still be seen under a modern building in Piazza di Tor Sanguigna and the basement of the church Sant’Agnese in Agone.

History of Piazza Navona

Domitian’s stadium was built on the southwestern edge of the Campo Marzio district, next to the Neronian baths and Agrippa’s stadium. It was the place where the Roman people engaged in sports, competition, and recreation. It eventually remained in use until the 4th century.

Imperial period (27 BC - 476 AD)

As mentioned in the introduction, today’s Piazza Navona originated from a stadium that was probably built by Domitian before 86 AD. Its purpose was to host the Greek athletic games which he particularly valued. The Romans instead, didn’t like the games and considered them immoral.

The structure had two main entrances in the middle of the long sides, and another in the middle of the curved side. On the outside, the façade consisted of two orders of arches resting on columns of travertine with Ionic half-columns in the first order and Corinthian columns in the second. It was built of travertine blocks and bricks, covered with colored plaster, and is the only example of a masonry stadium known to date in Rome.

The games mentioned above were called “agones” and the name of the square is derived from this term: “in agone” means “through the games”.

The stadium was richly decorated with statues, including that of Pasquino, which now stands at Piazza di Pasquino (next to Piazza Navona).

Since it was more a stadium rather than a real circus, there were no carceres (the gates from where the racehorses came out) and it neither had a spina (the dividing wall around which the horses would run) as, for example, in the Circus Maximus. Instead, the space was used for sports competitions. The obelisk, which today stands in the center of the square, came from the Circus of Maxentius, which is still located on the Via Appia.

Middle Ages (476 - 1492)

Starting in the Middle Ages, a series of small houses began to be built on the site of the former stadium stands, while the central court (where the actual games took place) remained empty and became a place for trading.

The square saw the construction of stalls and inns in the area corresponding to the arches, as well as underground chambers that hosted brothels. This area thus became known for its disreputable and shady visitors.

Around the year 1000, the stadium was still entirely closed, with only one street running along the present Via del Pasquino and Via dei Canestrari. The square was instead divided into small gardens with a few hovels and the small, primitive church of Sant’agnese in Agone, built between 1652 and 1672.

In the 3rd century, during the reign of Emperor Marcus Opellius Macrinus, Circus Agonalis was restored by Alexander Severus after a fire. After this, it was called the Circus Alessandri for a time, in honor of Alexander’s work.

At the time, the square was along the route the popes took to get from their residence in the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran to St. Peter’s Basilica—the most important and famous church in the world known at the time.

The stadium’s original stone steps remained in use until the 15th century when Romans came to watch the thrilling knight tournaments.

Renaissance (1492 - 1789)

In the second half of the 15th century, the market, which for many years was held in Piazza del Campidoglio, was permanently moved to Piazza Navona. Thus, it became a permanent place for the sale of vegetables, meat, and various products. Feasts and processions were also held there, leading to its regularization in 1485.

In 1579, the Spanish introduced the tradition of the procession on Easter morning accompanied by fireworks. Thus, the carnival celebrations of the Roman May were renewed, which were already known in other places in the city.

Between 1572 and 1585, Gregory XIII Boncompagni had three fountains constructed (one with a drinking trough) for the citizens and the transport animals that came to the market.

With the eruption of the Lutheran Reformation in the sixteenth century, in which Protestants seceded from the Roman Catholic Church, Rome had to fight for its role as the center of Catholicism.

Moreover, Pope Innocent X thought it was time for a beautiful monument at Piazza Navona. Thus, Bernini crafted the Fountain of the Four Rivers (1648 to 1651) with its giant obelisk in the center. Together with the Moor Fountain (1576) and the Neptune Fountain (1574), the three fountains evoked the idea of a spina as in the Circus Maximus.

In 1630, a palace was built on a series of houses then owned by the powerful Pamphili family. When the head of the family, Giovanni Battista Pamphili, was elected pope in 1644, the family felt that the Palace should be even larger and more prestigious. Architects Girolamo Rainaldi and Carlo Rainaldi were then appointed to expand the Palace of Pamphilj in Baroque style (1644-1650).

Another important structure that shouldn’t be forgotten is that of Pope Pius VI, who had the Palazzo Braschi built in late 1700, which today houses the Museum of Rome. The project was initially entrusted to Cosimo Morelli.

With the masterpieces it has to offer, the attractive Piazza Navona was already an essential part of Baroque Rome then. Pope Innocent X had made it the place of triumph of his family and the “center” of the period: in the 17th and 18th centuries, Piazza Navona became “Il salotto della città” (the salon of the city), the real center of Roman civic life.

Contemporary period (1789 - present)

In the early 20th century, the square was in danger of being damaged by plans to demolish the south side to connect the area directly to the Prati district. Eventually, the Corso Rinascimento was opened, while the north side, which had been demolished for static reasons, was rebuilt in faux-baroque style. The Via Zanardelli side was rebuilt in 20th-century style following archaeological explorations in which the ancient structures of the stadium were recovered.

However, the most striking remains of the Circus Agonalis came to light in 1936 when the wall structure began to emerge during the demolition and reconstruction of some buildings. After the complete excavation of the entire area, the remains of the stadium were incorporated into the INA Palace. The buildings erected on the remains of the cavea have preserved the design of this ancient monument, leaving the entire area of the athletics track free of construction and turning it into a monumental square.

After being a stadium for almost two thousand years, Piazza Navona is now a busy pedestrian area. At any time of the day, you can see people strolling or performing various activities. Moreover, during the Christmas season, Piazza Navona magically transforms into a busy and festive market where stalls offer everything. From candy to tug of war and everything to prepare the nativity scene.

Practically all the activities that took place from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries are given attention. Even today, Piazza Navona attracts not only local people but also Catholics, tourists, and artists from all over the world. And that was exactly what the creators of this baroque jewel wanted to achieve by designing so many beautiful, irreplaceable and priceless masterpieces.

Buildings and monuments at Piazza Navona

As mentioned earlier, Piazza Navona is full of majestic buildings, works, and monuments from different periods of Roman history. Some of the most relevant are listed in the historical section of this article and will be discussed in more detail below.

The fountains of Piazza Navona

As mentioned earlier, there are three fountains at Piazza Navona: the Fontana del Moro (Moor Fountain), the Fontana del Nettuno (Neptune Fountain), and the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers), which will be explained in more detail below.

The Moor Fountain

Built on the south side of the square under the windows of Palazzo Pamphilj, this fountain was originally built by Gregory XIII and sculpted by Giacomo della Porta in 1576.

In 1653 Bernini embellished this fountain with a dolphin holding a snail in its raised tail. The fountain was called “della Lumaca” (of the snail), until the figure in the center (which neither the Pamphili family nor the city liked) was replaced by the Moor, a bust of an Ethiopian holding a dolphin, from which the fountain takes its final name. The masks and sculptures of the tritons are copies of the originals that can be seen in the gardens of the Villa Borghese.

The Neptune Fountain

This monumental complex on the north side of the square was also designed in 1576 by Giacomo della Porta, along with the Fontana del Moro. However, it was long neglected (for about 300 years) with the central statue missing.

The statue of Neptune, fighting an octopus with his trident, was placed in 1873 when the municipality of Rome awarded the work after a competition to the Sicilian sculptor Zappalà and the Roman Della Bitta.

The other statues show two seahorses, mermaids, and cupids playing with dolphins. Some were added by Bernini in the 17th century, and the architectural composition was completed in the 19th century with the addition of the Tritons.

The Fountain of the Four Rivers

The Fountain of the Four Rivers, which dominates the center of the square, is the most attractive and largest of the three fountains at Piazza Navona. It was the only fountain designed entirely by Bernini and was completed in four years (1647-1651).

The sculptures, enriched with animal and plant elements, represent the personification of the four rivers symbolizing the power of the Church that extended across the four continents known at the time.

The fountain makes clear Bernini’s conception of the Baroque city: it merges with nature and regains the presence of the four elements: earth, air, water, and fire. This armony is made possible thanks to artistic technique that transforms nature and its indomitable elements, making them docile and orderly.

The four river gods stand around a massive rock, which also features an obelisk. They also represent the world as it was known in that century. Europe is represented by the Danube, which was sculpted by Frenchman Claudio Poussin, accompanied by a horse, a symbol of this continent.

Africa is represented by the Nile, which was sculpted by Giovanni Antonio Fancelli, and which also features a lion. The eyes of the river god are covered with a piece of cloth because the source of the Nile wasn’t known at the time.

The river god of South America is depicted by the Rio de la Plata, which was sculpted by Antonio Raggi. The coins symbolize the underground treasures in the area of the river.

The fourth and final continent is Asia. The Ganges sculpted by Francesco Baratta is the main river and is the only representative of that continent, depicted by a bearded person holding an oar (it symbolizes the navigability of the river).

Finally, the inscription on the monument reads that the fountain offers “beneficial splendor to those who walk, drink to those who thirst, and opportunity for those who wish to meditate.” An allegory of purifying and thirst-quenching water for the soul awaiting spiritual redemption.

The obelisk at Piazza Navona

The Fountain of the Four Rivers is crowned by a reproduction of an Egyptian obelisk. It was erected in 1647 and has a dove on top, symbolizing Pope Innocent X. The obelisk was transferred to this site from the Circus of Maxentius, built in honor of his son Romulus.

The work glorifies the emperors Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. Hieroglyphic inscriptions, in which the latter’s name appears, prove that it originally belonged to another monument: in fact, it stood together with three other obelisks near the temple of Isis.

The granite obelisk is 16.54 meters high. The heraldic coat of arms of the pope and the dove with an olive branch decorate the pyramidal rock and symbolize the divine power that descends like a sunbeam from the four corners of the obelisk to the rock below, reminiscent of formless matter or chaos.

Remarkably, the cave dug directly under the Four Rivers statues, with a marble horse that seems to emerge from the hollow, is nothing but an architectural trick to give the impression that the heavy obelisk is floating in the air. Of course, this sensation is enhanced by the various water and light displays.

It’s known that this project was originally entrusted to Borromini, but Gian Lorenzo Bernini managed to regain the favor of the pope and his advisor, so Innocent X eventually assigned the construction of the fountain to Bernini.

Palazzo Braschi (Museum of Rome)

Before the Palazzo Braschi, the Palazzo Orsini was built in Rome in 1435, named after the prefect who initiated its construction. The main entrance looked out onto Piazza Navona.

The building was demolished in 1791 by order of Pope Pius VI and his nephew Luigi Braschi-Onesti. Then another building was erected, designed by the architect Cosimo Morelli. The work was completed in 1804 and gave rise to one of the last examples of papal nepotism (in fact, ecclesiastical funds were also used): the Palazzo Braschi.

During the French occupation, numerous works of art were shipped to France during the Napoleonic looting (in the territories of the First French Empire), and most of them never returned. Almost all of these works are now in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

After being sold to the Kingdom of Italy in 1871 and used as the headquarters of the Ministry of the Interior, during the Fascist dictatorship the palace became the residence of some of the regime’s institutions and temporarily hosted the Madonna del Fascio. In the fall of 1943, it became the seat of the Republican Fascist Party and housed the headquarters of the Armed Guard of Palazzo Braschi, one of the repressive groups active in Fascist Italy.

After the war, the palace was abandoned until 1949 and inhabited by vagrants and refugees, who damaged and stole many of the palace’s frescoes. However, in 1952 the seat of the Ministry was transferred to the Viminale Palace and Palazzo Braschi became the site of the Museum of Rome.

This grandiose structure now houses the most important collection of artifacts related to the history of art and life in Rome from the 15th to the beginning of the 20th century. In the charming courtyard and the painted halls with their original tempera decoration and delicate stucco, more than 100,000 works are exhibited including sculptures, engravings, paintings, drawings, furniture, carriages and coaches, antiques, and frescoes.

Architect Giuseppe Valadier contributed to the construction of a distinctive symbol of the palace: the monumental staircase with antique statues, decorated with refined stucco reliefs where author Luigi Acquisti was inspired by the myth of Achilles and the Iliad.

Sant’Agnese in Agone

According to legend, the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone was founded on the site where the thirteen-year-old Agnese was martyred to death in 304 AD, an event that will be discussed in more detail in the Curiosities section.

The complex was built on the foundations of an early Christian basilica built before the 8th century and then rebuilt in the 12th century by the order of Callistus II. Thus, around the year one thousand, there was a small, primitive church of Sant’Agnese in Agone.

Pope Innocent X in 1644 ordered the construction of a palace for his family in the square where Bernini’s magnificent fountain had already been built. Soon after, in 1651, the pope decided to erect a new church on the remains of the small basilica of St. Agnes.

The church was first designed in 1652 by Girolamo Rainaldi (1570-1655) in Baroque style. The commissioner was Innocent X Pamphili, whose tomb is in the church.

The Pamphili family wanted to make the church their private chapel, so the Pope decided to give the commission to Francesco Borromini in 1653. Borromini demolished the facade of the church built by the Rainaldi family and designed a new facade of complex plasticity, which can still be admired today.

The interior of the church gave an impression of grandeur through the light that shines in through the windows of the dome. Innocent X also had a window made in his private quarters in the palace so that he could attend Mass from there.

A staircase was also built leading to the basement, an ancient medieval oratory built on the site of the martyrdom of St. Agnes. Furthermore, the church bells come from the cathedral of Castro, a Farnese principality in the Viterbo area, which was destroyed by the order of the Pope.

This church of almost excessive splendor is dominated by the use of warm-colored marble. Bernini, together with other architects, briefly replaced Borromini but did not change the unity of his masterpiece.

He limited himself to embellishing the interior of the church with gold leaf, sculptures, and an abundance of polychrome marble. He also commissioned others to fresco the church and dome. The interior of the church is a wonderful museum of Baroque sculpture, which was a very important chapter in the artistic history of the 17th century.

Finally, the opulent church includes four chapels (of Saint Agnes, Saint Philip Neri, Saint Francis of Rome, and Saint Sebastian) and five altars (the high altar, the altar dedicated to Saint Emerenziana, Saint Cecilia, Saint Eustace, and Saint Alexis).

The Palace of Pamphilj

This building belonged to the wealthy Pamphili family and was originally a small palace with a modest facade. It was first expanded around 1630, when Giovanni Battista became cardinal, and then made into a monument when he was elected pope in 1644 as Innocent X.

The reconstruction of the Palazzo Pamphilj was entrusted to Girolamo Rainaldi, who for financial and sentimental reasons was preferred to the great architects of the time. He was accompanied by the young Francesco Borromini, whose work was limited to designing the hall and gallery.

Several houses adjacent to the old building were purchased and work progressed so rapidly that it was completed in 1651. Rainaldi, despite the limitations of the existing buildings, succeeded in creating a building that was overall unified. The architecture of the palace was not very original, but the decoration of the gallery by Pietro da Cortona turned it into a Baroque jewel.

The palace dominated the square from the outside and was extraordinarily beautiful inside. The halls had names derived from the theme of the frescoes: the Hall of Bacchus, the Hall of Ovid, the Marine Hall, and the Hall of Moses.

But the best setting was undoubtedly the Aeneas Gallery, where the story is told of the Trojan Aeneas, who went ashore on the coast of Latium to give birth to a new race of conquerors: the Romans.

The gallery was intended to evoke wonder, that’s why it’s 33.20 meters long and 7.20 meters wide. The painting was light and dynamic, full of vitality and imagination, characterized by light and bright colors that created an impression of great elegance.

When the Pamphilj family moved into a new building on Via del Corso, the palace on Piazza Navona was abandoned and rented to the Accademia Filarmonica Romana, among others. Even when the family adopted the name Doria-Pamphilj, the palaces were called Palazzo Pamphilj or Palazzo Pamfilio, which was bought by Brazil in 1920 and is currently used as an embassy. It’s also the venue for artistic and cultural exhibitions.

Curiosities about Piazza Navona

Did you know that Piazza Navona used to be transformed into a lake every Saturday and Sunday in August? And that the square clearly bears traces of the rivalry between Bernini and Borromini? Discover more curiosities about this world-famous place!

The Pamphilj family

Given the importance of this family in the history of Piazza Navona and its monuments, it seems appropriate to take a closer look at the origins and role of this influential dynasty.

The Pamphilj family, of Umbrian origin, settled in Rome in the late 14th century and its members served several popes. In the mid-15th century, Antonio Pamphilj was the pope’s fiscal procurator and built a large fortune by purchasing houses and buildings near Piazza Navona.

This was the beginning of the social rise of the Pamphilj family, which became part of the great noble families of Rome and succeeded in securing for Girolamo the cardinal’s hat in 1610 during the next century.

However, it was the family’s second cardinal, Giovanni Battista, who was elected pope in 1644 under the name Innocent X, who created the family’s final fortune. During his pontificate (1644-1655), the Pamphilj obtained favors and became one of the richest and most powerful families in the city.

The pope’s brother, Pamphilio, transformed the houses in Piazza Navona into the uniform Palazzo Pamphilj. The pope, on the other hand, initiated the monumentality of the ancient and popular Piazza Navona itself, which, as we have seen in the previous chapters, was realized by Bernini (Fountain of the Four Rivers) and Borromini (St. Agnese in Agone).

Pamphilius’ widow, Olimpia Maidalchini, became the most powerful lady in Rome and ruled like a queen. Ambassadors, ecclesiastics, artists, merchants, politicians, and other important people gave her rich gifts to gain her favor and to be presented to the pope. Her court in the palace of Piazza Navona competed in splendor with that of her brother-in-law the Pope.

The story of Saint Agnes

As mentioned earlier in this article, according to legend, the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone in Piazza Navona was founded on the site where thirteen-year-old Agnese died a martyr’s death in 304 AD after a dramatic fate.

This unfortunate young woman was the daughter of a family of the Roman aristocracy, converted to Christianity, guilty of rejecting the son of the prefect of Rome, Sinfronius, and later indicted as a Christian.

Reportedly, the underage girl was undressed by customers of the brothel who intended to rape her. However, it seems that at that moment her hair miraculously melted and came down to cover her body almost completely, thus protecting her.

None of those present dared to violate her virginity after the only person who tried was electrocuted at her feet. As all attempts to burn her failed, she was finally stabbed to death and her throat was slit.

To keep alive the memory of this miracle and the martyrdom of this young Christian woman, a new church was built on the same site on the foundations of an early Christian basilica erected in the 8th century. This church was rebuilt in the 12th century by order of Callixtus II and later rebuilt as the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone.

The six talking statues of Rome

Rome’s speaking statues—traditionally six—have been famous since the 16th century as the means by which locals made critical or sarcastic remarks about the pope and authorities in general.

The Romans made a habit of leaving messages against corruption and arrogance on these statues. Many popes tried to put an end to this tradition by moving the statues or guarding them day and night—but in vain.

The messengers who expressed the discontent of the people certainly didn’t belong to the Roman working class, the majority of whom were illiterate. Therefore, they had to be scholars, intellectuals, or members of Roman noble families, who were opposed to the papal hierarchy.

The six statues were named after the streets where they were located. They include: Pasquina at Piazza di Pasquino, Marforio in the courtyard of the Capitoline Museum, Madama Lucrezia at Piazza di S. Marco, Abate Luigi at Piazza Vidoni, il Facchino along Via Lata and il Babuino along Via del Babuino.

The Pasquino Statue

Pasquino is currently the only surviving statue, dating from the 3rd century, from the Hellenistic period. The name and origin of the statue remain a mystery. There are several theories about it such as: “Pasquino” was derived from the name of a barber, blacksmith, tailor, or shoemaker in the area where the statue was found. According to another theory, Pasquino was the owner of a restaurant located in Piazza di Parione (now Piazza di Pasquino).

Another legend states that it was a teacher whose students, after noticing some similarities with the statue, began to mock it by hanging papers with messages on its neck. In any case, the statue gives name to the aggressive and brutal satirical remarks about the ruling class and its members, also called “pasquinate".

The sculpture was found in excavations in 1501. The face of the statue was damaged and it had neither arms nor legs. It’s difficult to say what it was supposed to represent but experts, however, identify the object as Menelaus carrying the body of Patroclus, both Greek warriors.

It seems that the statue originally graced the Circus Agonalis, which is now Piazza Navona. After its discovery, it was moved to its current spot, Piazza di Pasquino.

The Lake of Piazza Navona

On June 23, 1652, a curious tradition was born, inaugurated by Pope Innocent X and his sister-in-law: the custom known as the “Lake of Piazza Navona.”

Before the construction of the sidewalk and the raising of the central level in the late 19th century, the surface of the square was hollow and could be flooded to provide some cooling on summer days.

Activities and entertainment

For about two centuries, every Saturday and Sunday in August, Piazza Navona was transformed into a lake. The event attracted everyone from nobles who came in carriages to ordinary citizens. Moreover, many curious facts that occurred were magnified in peoples’ memories and passed on in the chronicles of the time until they became almost legendary.

Aristocratic families organized competitions and activities for entertainment. Sometimes they sailed in gondolas or boats made of wood and paper-mâché, some with sails and oarsmen. The children and even the adults of the town bathed (sometimes naked) in the artificial lake to play games and get into mischief. To the extent that an edict forbade skinny-dipping.

In 1676, activities at the lake were suspended due to fears that it would cause disease. However, the tradition was resumed in 1703, in honor of the Queen of Poland visiting Rome, after the Pope’s private physician, Giovanni Maria Lancisi, declared that there were no health risks. On this occasion, Prince Pamphilj went out on the water in a majestic barge shaped like a golden gondola.

The lake remained a popular place for meeting and courting until the second half of the 19th century, as well as a convenient opportunity for coachmen to refresh themselves and wash their carriages. Its popularity was gradually lost, and only the performances of military marching bands and firemen remained. The last deliberate flooding to create a lake occurred in 1865.

Jazzed up stories

One writer recounts that in 1717 several ladies (perhaps under the influence of alcohol) undressed completely and jumped into the water. They threatened to drown but were saved by bystanders.

Another anecdote concerns the horse of a marquis, who is said to have drowned in the lake because his leg got stuck in the bottom.

According to another writer, in 1730 the son of the King of England threw coins into the lake, only to see children turn them up again, which is similar to what happened later at the Trevi Fountain.

It’s even claimed that at one point the water could reach the height of a human being. This is highly unlikely, as it contradicts all the prints of the time. These show that, given the structure of the square, the height of the water could hardly exceed 50 centimeters.

The rivalry between Bernini and Borromini

The history of art has seen rivalries and clashing visions between great artists. Think, for example, of Michelangelo and Leonardo, or Bernini and Borromini, who constantly challenged each other with their creations.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini (who both lived in the mid-17th century) couldn’t stand each other and looked at each other’s work with envy. Their only goal was to continuously outdo each other with larger projects and their outcomes. Rome benefited from this rivalry, which unleashed unprecedented diligence and drive for beauty in the artists.

Bernini was born in Naples but spent most of his life in Rome. He was an incredible architect and painter, although he’s best known for his talent for sculpting. According to many historians, he was the true founder of Baroque sculpture.

Borromini, on the other hand, introduced figurative language to the Baroque style. His art consisted of sinuous lines and contrasts. Lonely and reclusive, he soon came into conflict with Bernini, who was extroverted and had good connections at the papal court. What resulted was fierce competition for commissions for the most important works in Rome.

Personal attacks

Several stories are told about the battle between Borromini and Bernini, of which the one about Piazza Navona is perhaps the most famous. It seems that the commission to build the Fountain of the Four Rivers had originally been awarded to Borromini but Bernini had managed to snatch it away with the help of his connections.

Moreover, two statues in the fountain are said to make fun of Borromini’s work (the Church of Sant’Agnese). The Rio de la Plata raises its arm to protect itself from the collapse of the church, while the Nile covers its head with a veil to avoid looking at the ugliness of the building. However, the fountain was built earlier than the church, so this story isn’t accurate.

What may be true is that Borromini wanted to express his disdain for Bernini’s fountain. After all, the statue of Saint Agnes that stands on the façade clearly looks away from the fountain that was already there at the time. But this is not the only anecdote about the rivalry between the artists.

It seems in fact that the commission for the construction of the Propaganda Fide palace, in Piazza Mignanelli, was taken away from Bernini in favor of his rival. Borromini, therefore, had two donkey ears sculpted in the corner near the house of Gian Lorenzo.

Bernini responded by modeling a phallus on the side of his rival’s house, pointing at Borromini and his team. Although these images were considered indecent and have been removed—this story appears to be based on facts.

The flooding of Piazza Navona

On the facade of a house on the north side, in one corner, there is a small inscription indicating the height of the water (1.5 meters) during one of the worst floods the square has ever experienced, on December 28, 1870.

This was a fairly frequent occurrence in Piazza Navona, especially concerning natural floods caused by the overflowing of the Tiber River. The most well-known floods are those of 1495, 1530, and 1805.

Events in Piazza Navona

The capital’s most famous market is the traditional Christmas market which includes nativity scenes, trees, and various Christmas figures. You’ll also find handmade gifts and delicacies for all ages. Visiting the stands in such a festive and cozy atmosphere offers the chance to experience the eternal city uniquely.

During the rest of the year, Piazza Navona hosts all kinds of smaller markets and stalls. Here you can find, for example, gifts, handmade products, and art from local artists. In addition, there are also restaurants at the square with the typical gastronomic products of the city.

Another event is the feast of Befana which takes place on January 6, at the end of the Christmas break. The good witch brings in a large stocking of candy for good children or “coals” for those who have misbehaved. On this day, Befana comes to Piazza Navona on her flying broomstick to hand out gifts. Often combined with puppetry, music, and dance.

How to get to Piazza Navona

Like many monuments in Rome, Piazza Navona is located in the center of the city, and can therefore be reached by various means of public transportation, by cab or by foot.

By metro

Piazza Navona doesn’t have its own stop, so the closest stop is ‘Barberini’ on line A. Once you leave the metro, it’s about an 18-minute walk (1.5 km) to the Piazza, westward, initially along Via del Tritone. This will also take you past the Montecitorio Obelisk.

A single ticket (B.I.T.) costs € 1.50, but the metro also offers tickets for 24, 48 or 72 hours or even for a week.

See more info about the Rome metro.

See details on tickets and subscriptions for public transportation in Rome.

By tram

As for the tram, the closest station to Piazza Navona is Piazza Venezia, on line 8. Once you arrive at the stop, follow Corso Vittorio Emanuele II westward and turn onto Via della Cuccagna. Piazza Venezia is just 850 meters from this stop (about a 10-minute walk).

Rome’s tram network also uses the 1.50 euro single-ride BIT tickets, as well as other available passes.

See more info about the streetcar in Rome.

See details on tickets and subscriptions for public transportation in Rome.

By bus

This is definitely the means of transportation that offers the most options. The buses in Rome allow you to reach Piazza Navona with the lines 30, 70, 81, 87, 492, 628, which all stop at both Senato and Rinascimento. Both stops are located on Corso del Rinascimento, parallel to Piazza Navona, and a one minute walk from it.

Nearest stops*
Nearest stops*Rinascimento/SenatoRinascimento/SenatoRinascimento/SenatoRinascimento/SenatoRinascimento/SenatoRinascimento/Senato
RouteIt crosses Rome from east to west, connecting Cyprus with Tiburtina Station.This line crosses Rome in a north-south direction, following the course of the Tiber as far as Tiber Island.This also passes through Rome in a north-south direction.It makes a short stretch in the center of Rome, from Clodio to Giolitti.It crosses Rome from the Vatican, in Piazza Risorgimento, passing by Piazza Navona, until it reaches Malatesta, an area outside the historical and tourist center of Rome.It passes through Rome in a northeast (Colli Albani) to southwest (Giulio Cesare/Lepanto) direction.

By taxi

Cabs are obviously the most comfortable option, but they are also the most expensive and are not guaranteed to be the fastest way to get to Piazza Navona due to the heavy traffic in the central area of Rome.

However, this means of transport is a good option if you feel like chatting with a cab driver, who can tell you a few secrets of the city or entertain you with his typical Roman humor.

The best way to get a cab in Rome is to book it by phone, mobile apps or simply by going to a cab stand.

See detailed information on taxis in Rome.

By foot

Walking is undoubtedly the option that ensures you enjoy the monumental beauty of the Eternal City to the fullest. Being close to many of Rome’s other monuments, Piazza Navona can easily form part of a stroll through the city center.

Thus, you could easily admire the Pantheon, the National Roman Museum, Campo de’ Fiori, and many other architectural works on the same day.

Useful tips for your visit

  • Don’t worry about booking tickets or paying an entrance fee. A visit to this beautiful square is free!
  • You can choose to opt for a free, self-guided tour from the Trevi Fountain to Piazza Navona.
  • The square is surrounded by cafes and restaurants, a wonderful place to grab a drink or a bite.
  • The famous markets at Piazza Navona can’t be missed, especially if you decide to go there during the Christmas period.
  • The square is full of impressive monuments and works, so take the time to admire them.
  • You could also visit the ruins of the Stadium of Domitian, located about 4.5 meters below street level. An underground experience of Piazza Navona costs between €4.50 - €8.50. Find more info here.

Nearby places of interest

In addition to the many monuments and works at the square itself, there are other attractions near Piazza Navona. Below is a list of tourist attractions that you can visit within walking distance.

Trevi Fountain

This is the largest and most famous fountain in Rome and is built against the back wall of the Palazzo Poli. It was commissioned by Pope Clement XII, designed partly by Bernini, and built over 50 years later in the Baroque style with the intervention of architect Nicola Salvi.

Construction of the enchanting and romantic rococo fountain began in 1732 and was inaugurated in 1762. Today, it’s a true symbol of the city and is visited by millions of tourists every year.

The Trevi Fountain is 950 m west of Piazza Navona (a 12-minute walk).

Piazza Venezia

Piazza Venezia with the Altare della Patria is among the iconic sights of Rome. It’s located at the foot of Campidoglio hill, where five of the city’s main streets intersect. It’s named after the nearby Palazzo Venezia, which was used as the embassy of the Venetian Republic in Rome.

A few sights in this square include Palazzo Bonaparte, the Monument to Victor Emanuel II, Palazzo Venezia, Basilica San Marco, and the bust of Madame Lucrezia.

Piazza Venezia is 1 km west of Piazza Navona (a 13-minute walk).

Imperial Fora

The Fori Imperiali consists of a series of monumental fora (public squares). They were built over a total period of 150 years, between 46 BC and 113 AD. Over the years, Caesar, Vespasian, Augustus, Nerva, and Trajan contributed to its development.

The Imperial Fora were built to replace the Roman Forum after it became too small due to strong population growth and could no longer fulfill its purpose as the center of Rome.

The entrance to the Imperial Fora is 1.3 km from Piazza Navona (a 17-minute walk).

Circus Maximus

Considered to be the largest sports stadium built by man, this archaeological area was the site of legendary entertainment activities for nearly a thousand years.

Most of the building is underground and there’s not much left to see above ground. However, through a virtual reality tour, you can discover what the circus used to look like. It’s definitely worth a visit.

The entrance to Circus Maximus is 1.6 km from Piazza Navona (a 20-minute walk).